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Ailing Rebel Commander Heads for Capital

October 11, 1996

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) _ A mortally ill rebel commander moved today to fulfill her dying wish, making the Zapatista guerrilla movement’s first open trip to the capital to speak to the Indians of all Mexico.

Chants of ``Viva!″ rose from several hundred flag-waving supporters Thursday as federal legislators escorted Commandante Ramona _ visibly frail and said to be dying of cancer _ into church offices beside this city’s Roman Catholic cathedral.

Signs reading ``Ramona, Sweet Rebel″ decorated the walls.

Government officials who had earlier said such visits violate a federal amnesty law for the rebels of the southern state of Chiapas agreed to allow Ramona to address a national indigenous peoples’ conference in Mexico City.

The mostly Indian Zapatista rebels took up arms on Jan. 1, 1994, demanding greater democracy and Indian rights. At least 145 people died in brief fighting before a cease-fire was called.

The group has spent the past 2 1/2 years attempting to build a political base from a remote corner of southern Mexico with no phone lines, hemmed in by army troops.

Ramona’s trip gives the Zapatista National Liberation Army a forum in Mexico’s capital for the first time _ but the agreement prevented a larger group of rebels from coming to Mexico City.

``There were no victors nor vanquished ... there was a compromise,″ said congressman Jose Narro Cespedes, chairman of the legislative commission that brokered the deal.

He said it would ``strengthen the process of dialogue″ between the rebels and government, which has broken down in recent weeks.

Rebel leader Subcommandante Marcos praised the government’s decision to allow the visit, saying it boded well for attempts to revive peace talks.

Ramona, the most well-known woman among the Zapatista rebels, is a symbol to many rebel supporters of female influence in the movement.

She was to fly to Mexico City this afternoon to address the conference of some 2,000 Indian leaders from Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas.

Narro said she was to return to San Cristobal by Tuesday, a day before the legislative committee is due to meet Zapatista members for talks here on how to revive stalled peace talks.

The pause in peace talks adds to tensions caused by the emergence of a second, apparently unrelated rebel group. The Popular Revolutionary Army made a series of surprise attacks in central and southern Mexico that claimed 19 lives in August.

President Ernesto Zedillo had called the proposed Zapatista trip ``provocative.″ Other government officials had threatened to arrest any rebel who dared leave this southern state.

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