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Mexico, rebels reach accord

Indian rebels and the government peace commissioner announced a 32-point accord Wednesday that promises democratic reforms, limited autonomy for indigenous communities, Mexico's first anti-discrimination law and major investments in social services.

Although still subject to approval by grass-roots rebels, the agreement reached after nine days of talks appears to end two months of embarrassment for the government. It began Jan.

1 when guerrillas calling themselves the Zapatista National Liberation Army took control of several towns insouthern Mexico.

The uprising belied the government's insistence that Mexico had no guerrilla movement. It also called attention to the poverty and oppression in Chiapas, Mexico's most southern state, just as President Carlos Salinas de Gortari was touting his nation's entry into the First World with the enactment of NAFTA. The rebellion left at least 145 people dead.

Since then, charges of human rights violations by the Mexican army, the witty communiques of rebel spokesman Subcommander Marcos and the peace initiatives of government negotiator Manuel Camacho Solis have dominated national attention.

The rebellion has increased pressure on the government to assure that the Aug.

21 presidential elections will be clean, providing an unwelcome reminder of Salinas' dubious 1988 victory. Many Mexicans believe that Cuauhtemoc Cardenas actually won the vote.

The government refused to include in Wednesday's accord two rebel demands dealing with federal electoral reform, saying those issues will be addressed in Interior Ministry negotiations with political parties and in a special session of the Mexican Congress.

But the Zapatistas' influence on national reform was evident, and the government has indicated that more radical reforms _ perhaps even allowing the presence of international observers for the presidential elections _ are under consideration.

Wednesday's accord calls for an extensive renovation of the Chiapas state political system that would include the break-up of two townships into smaller units. The state and federal legislative districts also will be redrawn to permit more Indian representatives.

A new federal law for indigenous communities will be proposed, which would allow Indians to conduct local business in their own language and to incorporate their traditions and customs into their laws and courts.

Another federal initiative would, for the first time, punish individuals for discriminating against Indians.

Both bills will be presented to the Mexican Congress in the next regular session, scheduled for April, and are expected to pass easily in a law-making body controlled by Salinas' party.

The government proposal also promised teachers, health clinics and doctors, electricity, better housing, roads and child care centers. Indigenous people will receive their own radio station, free of government control. The Commerce Ministry was directed to study the impact of NAFTA on Chiapas and to develop programs to alleviate harm it may cause.