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Zapatistas to head for jungle

Leader frustrated with 'caveman' politicians' delay

MEXICO CITY— Blaming "caveman politicians" for failing to act quickly on an Indian rights bill or to let them address Congress, the Zapatista rebels announced Monday that they will head back to their jungle strongholds this week.

The 24 rebel leaders made a dramatic two-week march through much of the country to rally support. But their military chief, Subcomandante Marcos, expressed frustration at dealings with some lawmakers.

"Faced with politicians, we will never lower our heads or accept humiliations or frauds," he said at a news conference at the National School of Anthropology and History, where the rebel leaders have been staying.

Marcos earlier vowed to stay in Mexico City until Congress approves the Indian rights bill that resulted from a 1996 agreement between the government and rebels.

But congressmen from several leading parties have said the bill needs to be modified before going to a vote, perhaps by the end of April. Many also rejected Marcos' demand that the masked insurgents be allowed to use the congressional podium to address all lawmakers.

"The intolerance of the political class is clear," Marcos said. "The caveman politicians think that they can continue to operate with the racist, arrogant and authoritarian positions of the colonial era."

President Vicente Fox said he hoped Marcos would not leave before meeting with the congressional commission that has been designated to talk with the rebels.

"My desire is that he meet with Congress, that that will lead to a push to approve the law and after that, to a dialogue to resolve the entire conflict," Fox said at a news conference Monday.

The Zapatista leaders staged an arrival before about 100,000 people in Mexico City's main plaza on March 11 after a two-week caravan from the southernmost state of Chiapas.

Fox, who took office on Dec. 1, welcomed the march and endorsed the Indian rights bill, hoping to draw the Zapatistas away from threats of a return to the armed clashes of early 1994.

But the Zapatistas have refused to renew talks with officials.

They have accused Fox of hostility for his failure to close three of the seven army bases they said must be evacuated and complained that he has failed to force members of his own party to support the Indian rights bill.

The rebels emerged on Jan. 1, 1994, to seize six towns. Within days they had retreated, but 12 days of fighting left more than 145 dead before a cease-fire took hold.

Peace talks started quickly, but stalled in 1996 after the government of previous President Ernesto Zedillo rejected a proposed bill to enact the Indian rights agreement.