Mexican Bishops Try to Keep Peace Process Going

Zapatista Rebels Call for Civil Resistance

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SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico, MAY 3, 2001 ( Negotiators and Catholic Church leaders urged the Zapatista rebels to accept the government-approved version of the Indian rights law, to keep the peace process alive.

Last Saturday the Mexican Congress approved an indigenous-rights law, but some rebels denounced it as a watered-down version of the original proposal.

In a pair of statements May 1, signed by Subcomandante Marcos, the rebel group EZLN announced that it would not «renew the dialogue» for peace with the government of President Vicente Fox, and that it would continue «in resistance and rebellion.»

The EZLN ordered its spokesman to suspend peace meetings, in the southern state of Chiapas, with the government´s representative. It also asked that the country´s Indian organizations be called to engage in acts of civil disobedience.

EZLN statements said the approved reform allows the war to continue, «the military to go on with its dirty deals in Chiapas, the Zapatistas to continue in secrecy, and the Indians to be objects of charity and contempt.»

Following the EZLN statements, Bishop Felipe Arizmendi of San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, said: «It was to be expected that the EZLN leadership and other individuals and groups would not fully accept the new law. But the lawmakers issued a reform reflecting the cultural and political plurality of Mexico.»

After acknowledging that the legislation «is limited and, therefore, perfectible,» the bishop said that «it is legitimate to continue to foster greater progress, but always by peaceful means, never again by military endeavors.»

Bishop Arizmendi hopes that Mexico´s state congresses will address practical aspects and focus «on topics like autonomy, political participation, land benefits, the administration of justice.»

Archbishop Luis Morales Reyes, president of the Mexican bishops´ conference, supported Bishop Arizmendi´s statements and appealed to the EZLN to accept the reform regarding Indian affairs, as it is the first step toward peace. Otherwise, he said, the risk of war is still present, and it is not good to «return to 1994,» when the armed uprising took place in the southern state.

Luis H. Alvarez, the president´s peace commissioner for Chiapas, asked the EZLN leadership and communities backing them to reconsider their decision to suspend peace talks.

«For the federal government, the only possible road to peace is dialogue,» Alvarez warned. «Violence is no longer an option,» he warned.

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