Zapatistas call for humbled President Salinas to resign: Mexican reshuffle after insurgency prompts market slide

MEXICO'S Zapatista guerrillas, in their first communique since their 1 January insurgency, demanded the resignation of President Salinas de Gortari and his government and said their fight would spread beyond the southern state of Chiapas. They threatened to advance towards Mexico City if their demands, including recognition as combatants under the Geneva Convention, were not met.

The guerrillas, fighting under the banner of the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata, called for a ceasefire and an end to United States military and economic aid to Mexico.

The statement by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) appeared here shortly after President Salinas, facing possibly Mexico's worst crisis since the 1910-17 revolution, sacked his Interior Minister and reshuffled his cabinet as a concession to the insurgents.

In an admission of mistakes rare in his Institutional Revolutionary Party, Mr Salinas said his reshuffle - sacking the Interior Minister, Jose Patrocinio Gonzalez, and switching the Foreign Minister, Manuel Camacho Solis, to head a special Commission for Peace and Reconciliation in Chiapas - was 'a recognition of what had not functioned' and 'to prevent the dynamic of the grave events in Chiapas from leading to more confrontations'.

Mr Camacho said yesterday he was willing to talk to the rebels. He had not contacted them but was to travel to the conflict zone today.

The guerrillas' statement was dated 6 January, pre-dating Mr Salinas's shock announcement, and was not therefore a reaction to the President's most humbling decision in more than five years in power. Their first important victory - the sacking of Mr Gonzalez, a former Chiapas governor - appeared likely to give the peasant rebels a taste for more, rather than for giving up.

The EZLN statement was signed by EZLN Deputy-commander Marcos, and datelined 'somewhere in the south-eastern Mexican mountains'. He is Mexico's most hunted man, since no one knows who the top guerrilla commander is, or indeed whether there is someone superior to the charismatic, multilingual, green-eyed man in a balaclava who calmly chatted to reporters and tourists in San Cristobal the EZLN takeover on New Year's Day.

The neatly written computer statement in stylish Spanish said the EZLN's basic aim was to 'bring to the attention of the people of Mexico and the world the miserable conditions in which millions of Mexicans, especially we the indigenous population, live'. It said the Zapatistas had captured, but freed unharmed, 180 Mexican soldiers who had surrendered. Addressing the Mexican army, it said: 'If you begin attacking our families and do not respect the lives of wounded and prisoners, we will begin doing the same.'

Both the EZLN and latest Defence Ministry statements said fighting continued in the town of Ocosingo, cut off from the outside world. The guerrillas' communique spoke of 21 Zapatistas and 27 Mexican troops killed in the first six days of the guerrilla war. It said that did not include Ocosingo because of the continued fighting but that the army had 'executed Zapatistas in cold blood with a coup de grace' there. Foreign reporters had seen at least five - some spoke of nine - guerrillas who appeared to have been bound and executed in Ocosingo last week. 'We call for the resignation of the illegitimate government of Salinas de Gortari and the formation of a government of democratic transition to guarantee clean elections throughout the country.'

The appointment of Mr Solis as peace commissioner was a dramatic move by Mr Salinas, partly due to a catastrophic slide in the Mexican stock market on Monday. Mr Salinas announced the reshuffle as the stock market closed more than 6 per cent down on the day in reaction to last weekend's bombs in Mexico City and Acapulco.

'We want to unite the people of Mexico in a national movement,' the EZLN statement said. Contradicting government claims, it insisted it was an entirely Mexican Indian movement with no ties to or support from Guatemalan, Salvadorean or other foreign guerrillas. It denied any connection or support from the Catholic or any other church.

'Our arms and equipment were obtained little by little, silently, over 10 years . . . We tried every other peaceful and legal route without success. During these last 10 years, 150,000 of our indigenous brothers have died of curable illnesses. All the government gives us is charity at election time. . . Afterwards, death returns to our homes. That's why we now say 'enough of dying for nothing'.'

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