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Panel Calls For New Talks, Army Withdrawal

A church-backed mediation commission called on Saturday for new talks to end a rebellion in southern Mexico, but said army troops must withdraw from newly recaptured Indian villages first.

In Mexico City, about 1,000 dancing, shouting students marched down a main thoroughfare to the Angel of Independence monument, demanding that the army pull back troops from territory held by Zapatista rebels.

“We demand the immediate resumption of negotiations and an end to this war,” said Martha Martinez, a law student. The slogan “We are all Zapatistas,” was painted on her face.

A group of federal lawmakers was reporting back to President Ernesto Zedillo this weekend after visiting former rebel territory and meeting with the church-backed National Mediation Commission.

The Mexican Congress will begin debating the conflict in Chiapas this week to seek ways of ending the rebellion - a demand for land and social services in Mexico’s poorest state that began on New Year’s Day 1994.

At the top of the agenda will be an amnesty law that would pardon rebels who agreed to lay down their arms.

“It is still possible to prevent war and genocide,” the commission said in a statement late Friday. “Both sides have expressed their willingness for dialogue and a political solution to the conflict. But this is not enough.”

The commission insisted talks begin this month and that a “stable truce” be declared by the end of March. Talks last year ended without result.

There was no immediate response from the government or from the Zapatistas to the commission’s call. But Zedillo, who says he wants to resume peace talks, also has said he has no intention of pulling the troops back.

He said Friday that the government “will never again abdicate its constitutional responsibility to preserve its authority in national territory.” He referred to land formerly controlled by the rebels.

The rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army has not been heard from since Wednesday, when they issued a communique repeating their stance: They want to renew peace talks, but the army’s presence in the mountains is an obstacle.

The army began occupying prorebel villages starting Feb. 10, one day after Zedillo announced he was cracking down on rebel leaders. A government arrest warrant is still out for top rebel spokesman Subcomandante Marcos.

Marcos led the Zapatista delegation during last year’s talks with the government and would most likely be the lead negotiator in new talks.

The commission of federal lawmakers charged with trying to restart peace talks was heading back to Mexico City this weekend.

The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO

Tags: unrest

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