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Mexico Peace Bid Gets Cold Response

July 10, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Nearly five months after Zapatista rebel leaders vanished from view, the Mexican government’s plan to lure them back to peace talks received a chilly response Thursday.

Zapatista supporters dismissed the plan outright, a congressional peace commission expressed disappointment, and _ as has become customary _ Subcomandante Marcos, the rebel leader, was silent.

The masked, pipe-puffing Marcos _ whose collected communiques and parables fill three books _ has not been seen publicly since a videotaped statement in February.

His silence has cast great uncertainty over peace efforts. Marcos did not even comment when troops and police raided several pro-Zapatista villages and clashed with Zapatista fighters in recent months, and he has repeatedly ignored efforts by government and independent mediators to meet him.

On Wednesday, the Mexican government made a proposal for the Zapatista rebels to return to negotiations, promising to begin a series of actions to relax tensions in Chiapas state once talks resume.

The government said it would promote development in the impoverished southern state and release imprisoned Zapatista rebels and their supporters who have not been directly implicated in acts of violence.

But the government’s proposal was criticized by a congressional committee trying to draw the two sides back to talks, which collapsed in 1996.

``I think this proposal lacks the fresh breath we hoped for,″ said Congressman Felipe de Jesus Vicencio, spokesman for the commission.

He complained that it failed to suggest a pullback of federal troops from Chiapas and was confusing about which actions the government would take before hearing from the Zapatistas.

Vicencio also said it was not clear if most Zapatista prisoners might be released. Dozens were arrested in recent raids on pro-rebel villages.

With the Zapatistas themselves still mute, their supporters spoke up.

``There is nothing new. (The government) remains in the logic of war,″ said Ana Maria Aragones, a former Zapatista adviser and now member of the Citizens Network of Aid for the Zapatista Cause.

She told a news conference that rebel leader Marcos had been silent because the government has ignored Zapatista conditions for talks.

``He has said what he has to say and if (the government) still fails to comply, what is he going to say?″ she said.

The Zapatistas demand an army pullback, release of prisoners, acceptance of their townships and enactment of an Indian rights bill drafted by the congressional peace committee.

The government insists it accepts the agreement with the rebels, but the Zapatistas reject the government proposal for enacting it.

The Zapatista uprising began in January 1994 with the rebels demanding greater democracy and rights for Chiapas’ Indians.