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Mediators, Rebels Meet to Discuss Demands from Chiapas Uprising

By James F. Smith

Ski-masked leaders of Mexico’s Zapatista guerrillas met Monday with congressional mediators in the first serious attempt in nearly five years to address the demands that spurred the rebels’ 1994 uprising in southern Chiapas state.

Subcommander Marcos and 23 fellow commanders of the Zapatista National Liberation Army huddled behind closed doors with federal legislators in a university building in the Mexican capital to begin lobbying for Indian rights legislation.

At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting, legislative spokesman Santiago Lopez reported that both sides had committed themselves to “a respectful, frank and cordial dialogue” and that the rebels remain committed “to resolve the conflict through the route of dialogue.”

Lopez, a congressman from Chiapas, didn’t disclose how the rebels would go forward in pressing their demands with the full Congress. The rebels didn’t comment immediately on the encounter.

The meeting followed the Zapatistas’ tumultuous arrival in Mexico City on Sunday, the culmination of a 16-day pilgrimage by the rebels from their jungle and mountain hide-outs in Chiapas. The caravan was the boldest initiative by the rebels since their brief but bloody insurgency began Jan. 1, 1994, followed by a cease-fire and a negotiating deadlock.

That Monday’s meeting happened at all illustrated the changes in the Mexican political landscape in the past year.

After years of acrimony between the government and the Chiapas rebels, President Vicente Fox -- whose inauguration ended seven decades of one-party rule in Mexico -- reversed his predecessor’s policy of ignoring the insurgents and rolled out the welcome mat.