Talks with rebels seem to bog down in Mexico

February 28, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico -- Negotiations to resolve the peasant uprising in the southern state of Chiapas appeared to have bogged down yesterday as rebels pressed their demand for democratic changes in Mexico's political system.

Although the talks began only a week ago and had brought quick preliminary agreements on many secondary issues, the government and the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Front both described the negotiations as having reached a crucial juncture.

"We cannot ignore the interpretation that we are in the most critical part of the accords at this moment," the negotiators said in a joint communique late Saturday.

The two sides did not publicly explain their differences, which arose as they turned to the Zapatistas' proposals for political reforms, Indian autonomy and changes in land-tenure laws, people involved in the talks said.

More than a day after government officials had said they might announce a conclusion to their first round of talks, the negotiators remained closeted in the 16th-century cathedral where they are meeting.

But the grave tone of statements by both parties contrasted sharply with their earlier upbeat announcements of quick, tentative accords for the protection of Indians' civil rights and improvements in housing, health care and education for peasant communities in the state.

Government officials said that they had responded generously to the rebels' more local demands partly in hopes of persuading them to step back from their insistence on broad changes in the political system in which the party of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has monopolized power for 65 years.

At a distance from the talks here, the government and its Institutional Revolutionary Party began to take promised steps to ensure fair presidential elections in August.

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