LACANDON RAIN FOREST, Mexico -- From their jungle stronghold here, Mexican Indian rebels are preparing to reject the government's peace offer and to return to the negotiating table -- or to fighting.
Parts of the government proposal are almost certain to be turned down, rebel spokesman Subcommander Marcos said in an interview with four foreign reporters who were allowed to attend some of the insurgents' discussions of the offer.
"We are speaking of a process of dialogue and negotiation that can take six to eight months," Marcos said, noting that extended period threatens to draw out the peacemaking process until after the Aug. 21 presidential election.
If that happens, it would keep the uprising atop the national agenda, which would continue to damage international perceptions of Mexico and embarrass the government.
The only alternative, Marcos said, would be if the government sends a clear signal that it is committed to democratic change.
Marcos made his comments yesterday, after guerrillas distributed three communiques that accuse the government of lying by saying that a peace agreement had been reached earlier this month.
"The bad government has said there were accords where there was only dialogue," one communique reads. "The powerful now usurp the truth and try to trick the people (by) saying that peace is only a question of a signature."
Marcos -- the guerrillas' ski-masked, pipe-smoking military leader said the rebels had not spoken out when the offer was presented March 2 because "we were in enemy territory."
The prospect of prolonged negotiations or armed encounters with the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which on Jan. 1 took control of several towns in the state of Chiapas on the Guatemalan border, is not a pleasant one for the Mexican government.
The poorly armed rebels have retreated to the jungle. But their demands for basic services, civil rights and democratic elections put a spotlight on the economic and political flaws in a country whose leaders are trying to present it as an emerging First-World nation.
Attempts to defeat the Zapatistas militarily -- including aerial attacks near villages -- left at least 145 people dead and provoked an international outcry.