Chiapas Ten Years Later

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Reuters on the Red Alert
ReutersJune 21, 2005 Additional reporting by Lorraine Orlandi

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico, June 20 (Reuters) - Mexico's Zapatista rebel group, which emerged in 1994 to fight for Indian rights but has been quiet in recent years, put its forces on alert but it was unclear what prompted the action.

The Zapatistas, known by the Spanish-language acronym EZLN, said in a statement on Monday they were grouping their fighters, closing down their radio station and pulling out of villages they control.

They did not give a reason for the moves in the southern state of Chiapas but the Defense Ministry said in a statement it had sent troops into rebel-held territory last week and destroyed 44 marijuana plantations there.

The last time the group declared a similar "red alert" was in 1997 after paramilitary forces killed 45 people in the village of Acteal.

"All elements of the EZLN that were carrying out social work in Zapatista communities have been called into the ranks and our regular troops have been brought into barracks," the Zapatistas said in a statement.

Human rights activists in Chiapas said the alert appeared to be in response to a move by the Mexican army. "Something like this could only be caused by an important military mobilization. I think it has to do with the army," said rights worker Ernesto Ledesma of the CAPISE Indian rights center.

But Mexico's government denied any such turmoil through its peace commissioner for Chiapas, Luis H. Alvarez.

"From the information gathered by Commissioner Luis H. Alvarez in person during recent weeks, and validated by state and federal officials, it can be affirmed categorically that the border zone of Los Altos and the Chiapas jungle are in a state of full normalcy," his office said in a short statement.

Alvarez has sought to bring the Zapatista leadership to the negotiating table, but peace talks have remained in limbo since 1996. Los Altos was the site of the army's drug raid.
The Chiapas state government said federal troops had recently pulled out of the area. "Some military bases have been withdrawn. Only two days ago one pulled out so we don't know what is happening," said Nolberto Chame, spokesman for the Chiapas state government. "

The Defense Ministry in Mexico City said in a statement that almost 200 troops from infantry and armored units joined federal police in destroying marijuana plantations in three rebel-held zones.

The Zapatistas' statement, signed by rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos, said political officers who worked in Zapatista-run local administrations, known as "good-government councils," were going into hiding.

"Members of various good-government councils and autonomous authorities are being evacuated to protect them," the statement said. "From now on, and for an undefined period of time, they will carry out their work clandestinely."

The pipe-smoking Marcos, who became an anti-globalization icon hidden behind a ski mask, issued a weekend statement attacking the left-wing front-runner for presidential elections next year, Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who he accused of betraying left-wing principles.

In Monday's statement, Marcos advised rights and aid workers in Chiapas, many of them foreign, to leave Zapatista-held territory "or if they stay of their own free will it is at their own risk."

The Zapatistas began a rebellion against the government on New Year's Day 1994 to demand Indian rights but there has been little violence in recent years. They are believed to have several thousand people under arms.

The Zapatistas took towns in Chiapas like San Cristobal de las Casas at the start of the uprising, in which more than 100 people were killed before a cease-fire 10 days later.
The rebels suffered a serious setback in 2001 when Congress watered down an Indian-rights law they had fought for.

Marcos last year launched a career as a crime writer. A book he co-wrote, "Uncomfortable Deaths" was published in a leftist newspaper.


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