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Former Zapatista Leader Arrested on Weapons Charge

October 24, 1995

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Federal agents, taking a step that could endanger delicate peace talks between the government and Chiapas rebels, announced Monday they had arrested one of the guerrilla movement’s leaders on a weapons charge.

Analysts said the arrest Saturday of Fernando Yanez Munoz, one of the rebel movement’s founders, who is known as Comandante German, could reverse gains made in talks to end the 22-month uprising.

They said the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army could well consider the arrest a violation of an agreement to suspend arrest warrants for the rebel leaders as long as peace talks were under way.

``This is practically a declaration of war, and in reality implies a breaking of the truce,″ said Juan Fernando Reyes Pelaez, a researcher for the Center for Historical Research into Armed Movements.

``This threatens to rupture the talks,″ said Reyes, a Mexican guerrilla years ago.

Officials waited two days to announce the arrest, possibly to avoid disturbing weekend peace negotiations in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest and southernmost state.

Rebel negotiators left peace talks in Chiapas on Monday _ two days earlier than planned _ after government representatives agreed Mexico’s Indians deserve some kind of self-rule.

Rebel negotiator Comandante David said in the mountain town of San Andres Larrainzar that the nonbinding agreement to discuss greater autonomy for impoverished Indians in Chiapas was positive.

Hours before the arrest was announced, though, he expressed mistrust of the government.

``We have made a small step but an important step,″ Comandante David said, ``but we must tell you honestly that we still mistrust, because the government we have known for so many years has lied to us and swindled us.″

Munoz at one point was the No. 2 man in the guerrilla organization, known as the EZLN, which rebelled on Jan. 1, 1994, to fight for Indian rights and national political reforms.

But according to political scientist Carlos Tello, who wrote a book about the uprising, Munoz had a falling out with other leaders over ideology and was replaced by Subcomandante Marcos. The official government news agency Notimex said Monday, however, that he remains a leader of the movement.

A statement by Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said Munoz was picked up in Mexico City for possessing an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon restricted to military use.

The statement stressed that his arrest was ``not related to the arrest warrants issued February 8″ for Zapatista leaders, including the well-known Subcomandante Marcos. The government later agreed to suspend the warrants for the duration of negotiations.

Eighteen other suspected Zapatista leaders were arrested earlier this year, and the government’s own human rights commission verified that five were tortured to confess. None have been convicted.

Human rights activists and friends denounced Munoz’s arrest.

``All of the charges are false,″ said Rosario Ibarra, one of Mexico’s most prominent defenders of political prisoners and a family friend.

At least 145 people were killed in fighting in Chiapas before the government called a cease-fire 12 days later. Since then, negotiations to restore peace have been taking place, but without progress until the latest round of talks.

The next talks, to begin Nov. 13, focus on a variety of issues, including demands for autonomous regions for Mexico’s 7 million Indians.

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