MEXICO CITY — Within hours of President Vicente Fox's inauguration Friday, Mexican troops began pulling back from jungle and mountain conflict zones in Chiapas state, government officials said, in a confidence-building measure that could improve prospects for peace.
In his inaugural address, Fox reached out to the Zapatista rebels of Chiapas, saying he will submit a peace plan to Congress as his first legislative act. He added that actions speak louder than words in ending the Chiapas conflict.
Late Friday, the Interior Ministry announced that army roadblocks were being dismantled and troops pulled back in Chiapas. A senior Fox official, National Security Advisor Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, was quoted as saying the measures should contribute to a climate for dialogue in the southern state.
Fox's inauguration day statement appeared to be a direct reply to the words of rebel leader Subcommander Marcos, who spoke out in a communique earlier this week in his first public remarks since Fox was elected in July.
Marcos said the nearly seven years since the rebel uprising in Chiapas on Jan. 1, 1994, had been an unending nightmare. He added that with a new president in power, "another [nightmare] may come or the dawn could finally come, we don't know. But we will do everything possible so that a new day might flourish."
Fox declared in his inaugural speech: "There is a new dawn in Mexico and in Chiapas." Then, departing from the prepared text to echo Marcos' words, he added, "so that a new day might flourish."
Fox said he will submit legislation Tuesday to endorse a peace negotiation framework adopted in 1996 but shelved by Fox's predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The plan, known as the San Andres accords, established ways to resolve disputes over land ownership and to protect rights and customs of indigenous people.
The Chiapas conflict remains one of the most intractable if low-key confrontations in Mexico. The election of Fox, the first president since 1929 from a party other than the PRI, is just one of the dramatic changes in the nation's political landscape that have prompted hopes for renewed peace talks.
In August, opposition candidate Pablo Salazar won the governorship in Chiapas, long ruled by the PRI. Salazar immediately promised to assist in reducing tensions and achieving a lasting peace.
In recent weeks, police have arrested a number of alleged members of paramilitary groups in Chiapas accused of harassing and attacking Zapatista supporters.
Fox's rhetorical echoing of Marcos' words marked a sharp departure from previous government policy of virtually ignoring the rebels, who remain holed up in a few jungle and mountain villages in Chiapas while a tense cease-fire continues.
The rebels demand protection of rights and more economic development for the state's Maya Indians.
Marcos said he will spell out the Zapatistas' approach to the Fox government today in the rebel leader's first news conference in years.