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MEXICO PLANNING LAND REFORM TO BENEFIT INDIANS IN CHIAPAS

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The Mexican government plans to redistribute land to benefit poor Indian peasant families in Chiapas and help restore calm to the southern state.

Land reform to break up big and often illegal ranches is one of the top demands of Zapatista National Liberation Army rebels, who launched an uprising last New Year's Day.At least 145 people were killed in fighting with the army before a cease-fire was called Jan. 12. A rebel show of force last week raised tensions in the region and fueled an economic crisis that sent the peso tumbling against the dollar.

The currency appeared to stabilize Wednesday after the rebels said they were willing to resume peace talks and the International Monetary Fund sent a team to Mexico City to help draft an economic recovery plan.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Miguel Rojas Limon, who was headed for Chiapas today, said existing laws will be applied to redistribute large holdings.

"This action is in response to real and justified demands by the peasants of Chiapas, and is needed to reestablish social harmony in the state, with order and justice," Rojas said.

Rojas gave no details when he announced the reform at a news conference Wednesday, but hundreds of thousands of acres of mostly cattle and coffee-growing land will be affected.

The laws vary according to regions, but in some areas a holding of more than 25 acres of arable land is liable to be expropriated. Cattle ranches are allowed a bit more.