Mexican rebels invited to join democracy talks

Mexico City (Reuter) - The Mexican President, Ernesto Zedillo, has invited the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army to take part in national talks on political reform. A presidential spokesman said that at the weekend Mr Zed- illo accepted a proposal from a group of MPs to include the guerrilla movement in future national talks on democracy - something the government has refused to do until now.

"The formalities still have to be worked out," said the spokesman. He added that the talks will probably include existing political parties and will be organised by the Interior Ministry.

Mr Zedillo's move appears aimed at breaking a deadlock in peace talks and meeting one of the rebels' long-standing demands that any peace settlement include national political reform. The government has in the past said peace talks should be limited to issues such as Indian rights and land ownership.

The Zapatistas rose in arms on January 1994 in the southern state of Chiapas but were quickly drawn to the negotiating table by the government after more than 150 people were killed in two weeks of fighting. But peace talks have dragged on and a crushing economic crisis has since taken the public spotlight from the rebellion.

Mr Zedillo's office also said that the government would take a legislative proposal to bolster Indian rights to peace talks between the rebels and the government today in Chiapas.The latest round of talks comes amid mixed signals from the Mayan rebels about their willingness to negotiate.

The guerrillas held a national referendum on 27 August which asked Mexicans whether the movement should become a political force. The majority of more than a million voters said Yes, according to vote organisers. But on the same day, the rebel leader, "Sub-commandante" Marcos, painted a bleak picture for peace by warning that the negotiations were "worn out".

Mr Zedillo told 600 ruling party leaders on Sunday that the party had to undertake more reforms if democracy was to thrive in Mexico. "Today the PRI demands more demo- cracy," Mr Zedillo insisted.