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Indignant Rebel Leaders Say They Remain Committed to Peace Process

April 24, 1995

SAN ANDRES LARRAINZAR, Mexico (AP) _ Rebel leaders in southern Mexico, angered by a government proposal they claim amounts to surrender, said they nonetheless remain committed to a negotiated end to their uprising.

``We feel that the delegates of the government don’t want to talk peace, only of surrender and do not take into account (our) proposals,″ Comandante Tacho of the Zapatista National Liberation Army said late Sunday.

He spoke after guerrilla and government negotiators finished their first formal talks in more than a year on the rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest and southernmost state.

The two groups are scheduled to resume talks in San Andres Larrainzar on May 12.

The Zapatistas want the army to return to positions it held before Feb. 9, when President Ernesto Zedillo announced arrest warrants for guerrilla leaders and ordered troops into rebel territory in the Lacandon jungle.

They also want all military operations to cease during negotiations. In the meantime, the Zapatistas propose, rebel troops would remain in their mountain hideouts.

The government said it wants the Zapatistas to concentrate their fighters in three areas of Chiapas, where they would be fed and housed by the government.

Tacho said the government was effectively asking the Zapatistas to surrender before the talks continue. He said rebel leaders would consult with Indian communities about the proposal.

The two sides’ ability to talk for two days generated some hope they can resolve the conflict, which began on New Year’s Day 1994.

But the meeting’s rough start, the dearth of accomplishments and the difference between the two proposals shows much work remains.

Scheduled to begin on Thursday, the talks were delayed for two days when government negotiators refused to appear. They said 1,000 pro-rebel peasants camped out in the main plaza were causing a security problem.

The peasants left Friday night at the rebels’ request. Talks started Saturday amid tight security.

Zapatistas say their uprising is a fight for basic rights and services for the impoverished Indian peasants of remote Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state.

More than 145 people were killed in 12 days of fighting before a cease-fire was declared.

After 10 days of negotiations in February 1994, the rebels returned to their support communities with a detailed government proposal for reforms and far-reaching services to their isolated villages.

Rebel supporters rejected the government proposal as insufficient. There had been no substantive talks since.

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