Mexico Begins Chiapas Withdrawal

December 1 2000

By ALEJANDRO RUIZ, Associated Press Writer

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) - Soldiers began packing up and withdrawing from some of the tensest areas of southern Chiapas state on Friday only hours after a new president took office.

President Vicente Fox gave the withdrawal order hours after his inauguration as Mexico's first opposition president in 71 years, military officials here confirmed Friday night. Fox also said Friday he was sending an Indian-rights bill to Congress.

The Zapatista rebels, who staged an uprising on Jan. 1, 1994, have demanded that Mexico withdraw troops from the area and implement the Indian-rights measure before they will return to the negotiating table.

With those two conditions met, a scheduled news conference deep in the jungle with Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos on Saturday afternoon was being closely watched.

The military official said troops removed 53 roadblocks around Chiapas state and began pulling out of the town of Amador Hernandez, where there have been daily clashes between residents and soldiers since the army set up in August 1999.

Former President Ernesto Zedillo had refused to implement the Indian-rights accord and had sent thousands of soldiers into Indian towns in Chiapas, a poor state bordering Guatemala.

Marcos, the ski-masked leader of the rebels, broke a five-month silence with a communique on Wednesday, gloating over Zedillo's loss but indicating he still wasn't sure what to think of Fox.

``It has been a long nightmare for millions of Mexicans,'' Marcos wrote. ``For us the nightmare ends today. Another could follow, or it could be a new dawn.''

Fox clearly was trying to win over Marcos trust when in his inaugural speech on Friday, he said: "Today a new dawn begins for Chiapas."

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