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Salinas Calls for Negotiations, Truce with Southern Indians

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times


President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's government, struggling to put down a deadly Indian rebellion in southern Mexico, stepped up peace efforts Tuesday with a call for a truce and an offer to listen to the guerrillas' demands.

Salinas' newly appointed peace negotiator, former Mexico City Mayor Manuel Camacho Solis, sounded a conciliatory note in his first public remarks, even suggesting the Zapatista National Liberation Army, as the guerrillas call themselves, could be recognized as a legitimate force.

"They are a reality,'' Camacho said in a news conference. "If we are going to reach an end to the conflict, we have to talk to them.''

Recognition as a legitimate "belligerent'' force is one of several demands the Zapatista rebels set forth in a five-page statement delivered late Monday to a newspaper in Chiapas, the impoverished southern state where the rebellion broke out New Year's Day.

The Zapatista rebels also said they were willing to begin talks with the government, if a cease-fire is declared and the Mexican Army stops its "indiscriminate bombings'' and withdraws from Chiapas. If the conditions are not met, they said, they would "continue their advance to the capital.''

The statement was signed by the elusive Marcos, identified as the leader of the Zapatista rebels. Marcos used the statement to correct reporters, who have been referring to him as "Comandante,'' saying he was merely a "sub-comandante.''

Camacho, who has a reputation as an able negotiator whose skills were honed in the political fights that go with running this ungovernable capital, declined to comment on the specific demands presented in the rebel statement until he could verify its authenticity. But he was careful not to rule out any condition.