Mexican Bishop Expresses Cautious Optimism

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MEXICO CITY, DEC. 10, 2000 (
Positive steps are being taken to obtain peace in Chiapas, though much remains to be done, says a bishop in the troubled Mexican state.

«Peace will not come by signing a piece of paper,» Bishop Felipe Arizmendi of San Cristóbal de las Casas said, according to a report published Saturday in the Mexico City newspaper Reforma. «It is necessary for everyone to assume responsibility and contribute to reconciliation. The Catholic Church is already working toward this.»

Bishop Arizmendi, who succeeded Bishop Samuel Ruiz, also said he believes new laws are needed to respect the diversity of ethnic cultures.

On Saturday, Pablo Salazar Mendiguchia took office as new governor of Chiapas. In his inaugural address, Salazar announced the creation of a commission to study the cases of more than 100 imprisoned Zapatista rebels, who could be released.

Among those attending the governor´s inauguration were Bishop Arizmendi, new Mexican President Vicente Fox and Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo.

On Dec. 1, in an effort to relax tensions, Fox withdrew military reserves from the conflict zone and, last Thursday, he introduced a law in the Chamber of Deputies relating to Indians´ rights and culture. Its approval is indispensable if the dialogue is to resume, Zapatista guerrilla leader «Marcos» said Saturday.

Marcos, who has been identified as Rafael Sebastian Guillen, is the leader, spokesman and ideologist of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a movement that captured six cities in Chiapas on Jan. 1, 1994, when the free-trade treaty with the United States and Canada came into force.

The government sent troops to quell the insurrection. After 12 days of confrontations and more than 120 deaths, according to official sources (400, according to the EZLN), discussions began between the EZLN and the government. These later froze, as did the peace process in the region.

Fox´s advent to power, the first Mexican president in 70 years who is not a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), might help resolve the existing situation, many observers say.

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