March 14, 2001

Mexico rebels reject format for Congress talks

                  MEXICO CITY, Mexico (Reuters) -- Mexican rebel leader Subcommander Marcos on
                  Tuesday night turned down a plan proposed by Congress for talks on an Indian rights law,
                  following the Zapatistas triumphal march on Mexico City.

                  The Congress plan proposed that a commission of 10 senators and 10 members of
                  the lower house would receive the 24 EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army)
                  commanders in the Upper House. It was presented to the rebels through a legislative
                  peace commission, known as Cocopa, that has mediated in the conflict.

                  Marcos, who has become an international symbol for the plight of Mexico's
                  downtrodden Indians since a 1994 uprising in their name, told a news
                  conference: "The proposal is humiliating and contemptible. It relegates a historic
                  demand to the level of a summoning of a second-rate functionary."

                  "We will not accept a shaming dialogue with the legislative power, limited to a
                  corner and with a reduced number of legislators," Marcos said at a news
                  conference at which he was the only rebel present.

                  The 24 rebel commanders emerged from their stronghold in impoverished
                  Chiapas state in southern Mexico last month for the first time since their briefly
                  violent uprising seven years ago. On Sunday they completed a 15-day trek
                  across the country with a huge rally in Mexico City's main plaza, the Zocalo.

                  The Zapatistas say they will renew long-stalled peace negotiations with the
                  government once the law is passed, and once troops are withdrawn from
                  Chiapas and rebel prisoners are released.

                  Mexican President Vicente Fox has made steps on all three conditions, setting
                  free some prisoners, sending the Indian law to Congress and shutting down
                  some military bases.

                  Members of the congressional Chiapas Peace Commission (Cocopa) met with
                  the EZLN leaders on Monday night, and then again with a Zapatista intermediary
                  on Tuesday, working on a date and time that the rebels could meet with

                  Rebels want to address Congress

                  Marcos said the rebel leaders insisted on meeting the full Congress rather than
                  just a handful of lawmakers and wanted to be able to address the two houses
                  from the podium.

                  "We know that within the Congress there is a fear that if the EZLN is
                  allowed onto the podium it will speak against Congress or call for insurrection
                  or some such absurd thing," the masked chief said. "...There's no article (in the
                  law) that prohibits the use of the podium," he added.

                  Mexican Congress is made up of 500 deputies and 128 senators. The former
                  ruling Party of Institutional Revolution(PRI) has a majority in the Chamber of
                  Deputies with 211 lawmakers, followed by Fox's conservative National Action
                  Party (PAN), with 206.

                  In the Senate, the PRI also has a majority with 60 senators, while the PAN has
                  46. No party has an overall majority in either house.

                  While Fox has extended an olive branch, members of Congress are not rushing
                  to sit down with the Zapatistas, partly out of concern that the Indian rights law
                  would grant controversial political autonomy to Indian communities.

                     Copyright 2001 Reuters.