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MEXICO SENTENCES ALLEGED REBEL LEADER

An alleged leader of the Zapatista rebels has been sentenced to 13 years in prison, even though the key witness against him has disappeared.

Javier Elorriaga Berdegue was convicted Thursday by a federal judge in the Chiapas state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez on charges of conspiracy, rebellion and terrorism.Prosecutors claim he is Comandante Vicente of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, which launched an insurgency to pressure the government to improve conditions for Indian peasants in Mexico's impoverished south.

Elorriaga has denied involvement with the rebels.

Human rights lawyers criticized the conviction and called into question both the credibility of the Mexican judicial system and the sincerity of the government in peace talks with the rebels.

"It shows it was a political decision to maintain (him) as a prisoner, because the judge did not follow the law," said Elorriaga attorney Pilar Noriega, who works with the social services group Coordinating Council of Non-Governmental Organizations for Peace.