Breakthrough in Chiapas Peace Process
Phoblacht special correspondent RAMOR DAGGE reports from San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico, on the latset positive developments
Mexico inaugurated a new president on Saturday, 2 December, ending seven decades of PRI rule. Vincente Fox of the right-wing PAN party took control, promising to end authoritarianism and corruption in government, while outside the lavish cereony, riot police clashed with anti-globalisation protesters.
Meanwhile, the Zapatistas broke their five-month silence by announcing they would travel to the Capital in February to restart peace talks with the new government. Speaking at a press conference in the Zapatista bastion of La Realidad, deep in the Lacandon Jungle, Sub-Commandante Marcos, surrounded by 20 armed insurgents, said he and 24 commandantes would address the Congress of the Union (the Mexican equivelent of the Dáil). In a new conciliatary tone, the rebels exhibited their willingness to negotiate with the new government and enter into a political dialogue.
The Zapatistas remain sceptical of these latest promises, having experienced a long tradition of betrayal by the authorities, but they are prepared to accept the proferred goodwill of the new government
``The objective of the EZLN,'' explained Marcos, referring to the intended mission to Mexico City, ``is not only gain recognition for indigenous rights, finish the war and establish a just peace, but also to emerge as a political force, but not as a political party.''
The new president responded enthusiastically to the Zapatista announcements. ``Yesterday we recieved with immense happiness the great news that the EZLN accepts to return to dialogue with this government''. On Sunday, he ordered the withdrawal of 10,000 troops from the conflict zone and the closure of 53 army roadblocks, the majority of them situated near Zapatista strongholds. The EZLN in turn welcomed the new administration's gesture, but pointed out that there are 259 army positions in Chiapas and a presence of over 50,000 troops.
The three conditions laid down by the rebels to renew talks are the closure of six key army bases in the rebel zone, for the government to comply with the San Andres Agreements and the freeing of all Zapatista prisoners. Newly elected Governor of the Chiapas state, Pablo Salazar of the opposition Alliance, agreed ``It is necessary to reduce the army presence and the three conditions of the EZLN are totally attainable,'' he said, welcoming ``with hope, the language of the new times''.
The Zapatistas say they remain sceptical of these latest promises, having experienced a long tradition of betrayal by the authorities, but they are prepared to accept the proferred goodwill of the new government. One plan being studied at the moment by the Fox administration is to create a demilitarised zone, a `zona-blanca', of 5,000km squared under total Zapatista control.
President Fox, despite his promises of a new dawn for Mexico and Chiapas, still insists on advancing the previous administration's neoliberalisation policies. At a meeting with business leaders last week, he said: ``Globalisation provokes social inequality, marginalisation and tensions, but as well it guarantees equal access to the markets, information and technology.''
For one masked Zapatista demonstrating at a road protest in San Cristobal this weekend, it was business as usual. ``Fox could be worse for us. We have no illusions. We expect things to get worse over the next few years.''
Indonesians kill nine in West Papua
Indonesian police have shot seven people dead in Merauke, and two dead in Fak Fak following demonstations by Papuans to mark the 29th anniversary of a 1961 declaration of independence. The previous week, police in West Papua had arrested pro-independence figures Theys Eluay and Thaha Hamid Wednesday for alleged treason.
Over 300 residents of Muyumandobo village entered Merauke city at 7am on Friday, 1 December, and headed for a field in front of Merauke Regent Office, to hoist the separatist Morning Star flag. The Indonesian government had said the leadership of the West Papuan independence movement, called the Presidium of the Papuan Council, could fly the West Papuan flag on Friday but would have to lower it on Saturday, except for one flag in five of West Papua's 14 districts. Human rights groups then expressed fears that grassroots groups applying pressure to keep the flag flying would give the Indonesian military an excuse for a bloody crackdown on all Papuans.
After negotiations with Indonesian security forces and government officials, the villagers lowered the flag and returned to their village. But on their way back, the villagers decided to return to the city and re-hoisted the flag. They also attacked the regent office.
After negotiations broke down, state police opened fire, leaving seven civilians dead. Hospital officials in Merauke said at least 50 people were hurt. At least two other people were killed earlier in a clash in the town of Fak Fak on West Papua's western coast.
Tensions also remained high in the provincial capital Jayapura, after police on Friday removed the separatist flag from a pole where it had been flying for months.
Leading Papuan Willy Mandowen appealed for calm and said the Papuans wanted to initiate peace talks with Jakarta.
"Jakarta makes the decisions and forces us to agree," he said.
In a separate development, New Zealand has offered to broker talks between the pro-independence Paupan Presidium and the Indonesian government.
After meeting with the international relations moderator of the Papua Council Franzalber Joku, New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff told the New Zealand Press Association: "We have grave concerns of the likelihood of violence there which could turn into a bloody conflict." New Zealand, he said, was keen "to encourage peaceful dialogue with the view to exploring the parameters of autonomy, which might give people in West Papua a high level of control over their own lives."
West Papua was transferred from Dutch to Indonesian control in 1963. International criticism is mounting of the Indonesia-organised 1969 "Act of Free Choice", in which a fraction of one percent of the adult population were selected to vote for integration with Indonesia.