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Zapatista rebels arrive in Mexico City

4-day trek designed to draw attention to their cause

September 12, 1997
Web posted at: 11:19 p.m. EDT (0319 GMT)

MEXICO CITY (CNN) - After a four-day, 600-mile trek across Mexico designed to draw renewed attention to their cause, Zapatista guerrillas arrived in Mexico City on Friday, hoping to rekindle peace talks and improve their political fortunes.

The bus caravan -- carrying 1,111 unarmed, but masked, rebels and hundreds of supporters -- arrived in the capital's Xochimilco district, following a trail blazed in 1914 by their namesake, Gen. Emiliano Zapata, a hero of the Mexican Revolution.

Not among them, though, was the Zapatistas' charismatic leader, Subcommandante Marcos.

More than 4,000 supporters, waving Zapatista banners and chanting slogans, greeted the predominantly Mayan Indian rebels, who are demanding full rights for all of Mexico's Indians and an army withdrawal from Chiapas state.

"The government has tried to cheat us and intimidate us with its army, but we won't give up," a rebel called Comrade Carlos told the gathering. "The presence of the Zapatistas in Mexico City is to show Mexico and the world that the government doesn't respect the rights of the people."

Prominent human rights activist Rosario Ibarra was among the crowd that waited hours to greet the Zapatistas.

"I feel very emotional over their arrival in peace and dignity," she said.

The Mexican government did not try to impede the march into the capital.

"They're welcome, and we hope everything comes off without incident," said Defense Minister Enrique Cervantes.

Interior Secretary Emilio Chauyffet said he hoped the presence of the Zapatistas in the capital would be a step toward settling their conflict with the central government.

The Zapatista movement rose up on New Year's Day 1994, demanding greater rights, land and jobs in Chiapas, one of Mexico's poorest states. More than 145 people died in 10 days of fighting that grabbed Mexico's attention and imagination.

But as peace negotiations have sputtered, the Zapatistas' fight has slipped from the national agenda. The march was designed to draw renewed attention to the movement.

"Zapata lives. The fight goes on," supporters chanted as the horn-honking caravan pulled into the outskirts of Mexico City.

The rebels started their march on Monday, picking up supporters with stops in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla and Morelos states. Crowds greeted them at each stop on the way in their first mass foray outside Chiapas.

Just before arriving in Mexico City, the caravan stopped in San Pedro Atocpan, where the rebels were met by 2,000 peasants who offered their support.

The rebels planned to camp in the capital throughout Mexican Independence Day celebrations Monday and Tuesday. It was unclear if a delegation would meet with government officials.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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