VATICAN (CWN) Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia of San Cristobal de las Casas, in the troubled Mexican state of Chiapas, has underlined the need for Church mediation to help settle the conflict between the Mexican government and the Zapatista rebels in that region.

      Bishop Ruiz, who is traveling in Italy, stressed that the help of the Church is more important than ever to safeguard the Indian population in the southern state, which borders on Guatemala and is the site of some of the most severe poverty in Mexico. In an interview with the Italian daily Avvenire, he said that he would not discontinue his efforts to mediate the conflict, despite the death threats which he continues to receive.

      The bishop said that the accords now in place between the Zapatistas and the federal government are only a temporary solution. The Indians are insisting on guarantees that mistreatment of their people will be stopped, and political prisoners released. While awaiting the government's response, he pointed out, they have held faithfully to a cease-fire agreement. But the Indians have been badly shaken by a massacre that took place on December 22, in which 45 people-- including many women and children-- were gunned down by forces sympathetic to the Mexican ruling party, apparently because they lived in a village which was believed to have Zapatista sympathies.

      Meanwhile, in Mexico City the Mexican Catholic Conference of Bishops issued a message this week rejecting any violent solution for the conflict in Chiapas state and requesting a deepening of the dialogue "in an environment of confidence."

      The document condemned the wave of violent confrontations and murders that have shaken the southern state of Chiapas, and said that "only through dialogue and negotiations will peace be achieved in the region and in the whole country." Nevertheless, the bishops said that there is a difference between "true dialogue" and "useless conversations," saying that the most recent "have been carried out with intentions of personal or political gains." The bishops demanded in the letter the reestablishment of the negotiations between the government and the Marxist Zapatista rebels and said that in order to have a fruitful conversation "all have to cooperate in creating an environment of mutual confidence, peace, and respect for life."

      "We strongly believe that the problem of Chiapas can only be resolved by peace and reconciliation," said Bishop Luis Reynoso Cervantes, spokesman for the Mexican Bishops' Conference. "We have seen over the years that any effort to solve social injustice or political differences by violence have only lead to more violence and to no real solution." He added, "Very frequently violence in the region is totally artificial, created by groups in order to foster their interests. But the consequences are always paid by the poor." He also confirmed that the bishops' conference's agenda for its annual meeting in April will include discussing a proposal to overcome the dead-end that talks have entered.

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February 19, 1998 volume 9, no. 36          DAILY CATHOLIC