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  Chiapas Rebels Are Urged To Disarm

The Associated Press
Monday, Jan. 15, 2001; 8:02 a.m. EST

MEXICO CITY –– Mexico's president and a Roman Catholic bishop in southern Chiapas state are urging the state's Zapatista rebels to lay down their arms in response to government peace overtures.

Sunday's calls for disarmament came as recent goodwill gestures by President Vicente Fox increased pressure on the rebels to resume peace talks and dismantle their military wing.

Fox, speaking in his hometown in central Mexico, made it clear that he expects the rebels to disarm in return for his decision to close some army bases in Chiapas, release rebel prisoners and propose an Indian rights bill to Congress.

"We will do our part in meeting the three Zapatista demands, but in exchange, we only ask them to lay down their arms so we can get down to working for peace," Fox said. Since he took office on Dec. 1, Fox has focused on pushing the rebels to resume peace talks that have been stalled since 1996.

Speaking in the Chiapas city of San Cristobal, Roman Catholic Bishop Felipe Arizmendi said the rebels "would get more sympathy and support from Mexicans" if they disarmed.

The bishop, who is considered a supporter of the rebels' demands for Indian rights, praised Fox's initiatives. He said the army was needed in some parts of the state to fight drugs and weapons trafficking.

The Catholic church has long expressed sympathy with the demands raised by the Zapatistas in their 1994 uprising but has said it disagrees with their use of violence.

The rebels accuse the army of abusing Indians and supporting paramilitary gangs. They have given faint praise to Fox's closing of three army bases but are demanding the closure of four more and the release of about a hundred imprisoned rebels as a condition for talks.

© Copyright 2001 The Associated Press

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