Human Rights Officials Warn Rebel’s Arrest Could Endanger Peace
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) _ The arrest of the man who authorities say led the 1994 Indian rebellion in southern Mexico has threatened the peace talks just as they seemed to be making progress.
Human rights groups were puzzled by the message the government was trying to send with the announcement Monday that it had arrested Fernando Yanez Munoz, known as Comandante German, on weapons charges.
``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.
Reyes said the Zapatista rebels may consider the arrest a violation of an agreement to suspend arrest warrants for rebel leaders for the duration of peace talks.
The arrest ``puts peace in Chiapas at risk,″ the human rights group Conpaz said in a statement Monday night.
``The federal government maintains its attitude of treating the people it is negotiating peace with as criminals,″ Conpaz said.
The Attorney General’s office announced the arrest about an hour after rebel leaders left for their mountain hideouts after a round of peace talks with the government that both sides hailed as successful. The two sides are scheduled to meet again in three weeks to discuss the possibility of Indian autonomous regions.
There was no response from leaders of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, who live in isolated areas of Chiapas and whose written messages often take days to arrive in San Cristobal.
Yanez Munoz was picked up in Mexico City on Saturday, as negotiators met in Mexico’s southernmost state of Chiapas, where the rebellion occurred. He was charged with possessing an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon restricted to military use, as well as a 9-mm pistol and 64 cartridges.
In a jailhouse interview broadcast Monday night on the television news program ``24 Horas,″ Yanez Munoz denied any connection to the Zapatistas or its military leader, Subcommandante Marcos.
He also denied the weapon charges, saying he believed his arrest was a political move by government officials designed to intimidate the Zapatistas.
``I think they are just trying to slow down the peace dialogue,″ he said.
The government denied that. In a statement Monday night, the Interior Secretariat said it wanted the peace process to continue.
The government claims Yanez Munoz was the top man in the guerrilla organization when it rebelled Jan. 1, 1994, to fight for Indian rights and national political reforms. At least 145 people were killed in fighting in Chiapas before a cease-fire took hold 12 days later.
Since then, Subcommandante Marcos has taken on an increasingly important role in the rebel organization.
The government announced arrest warrants for Marcos and other leaders in February, but agreed to suspend them while peace talks go on.
Eighteen other suspected Zapatista leaders were arrested earlier this year, and the government’s own human rights commission says five were tortured to confess. Some have been released. None has been convicted.