The Mexican government says the Zapatista rebels, famous for their peasant revolution of 1994, pledged to stop levying taxes on motorists passing through their territory in the southern state of Chiapas.
Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos made his promise in a taped message, played at a gathering of Indians in the highland village of Oventic in Chiapas on Saturday.
His commitment is an attempt to revive the stalled peace negotiations, Interior Minister Santiago Creel said in a radio interview.
“Let's make this event an opportunity to relaunch new initiatives with an open mind, with new ways to bring us together and to talk," Creel told the interviewer.
The Zapatista National Liberation Army, or EZLN as it is known in Spanish, gained world renown when it took by force St Cristobal de Las Casas, capital of Chiapas, demanding autonomy and better protection of indigenous Indian rights.
Ensuing clashes between the Zapatista and government forces left 150 people dead.
Since then, even though the rebel group continues to control a number of impoverished Indian villages in the verdant mountain state, their protests have been largely peaceful.
Creel said no timetable for talks had been agreed.
Marcos, on Saturday, also launched 5 Good-Government Committees to mark the start of a three-day Indian jamboree. Thousands of people, both Mexican and foreigners, travelled to the jungles of Chiapas for the party. Many sought shelter under huge plastic tarpaulins from driving rain.
He empowered the proxy councils to take a 10 percent cut of all aid grants given to local villages by non-governmental organizations.
The money will be used to finance community projects, the Zapatistas said.
“We are going to respect these forms of government and moreover we think that they can have a good, compatible stance in the framework of the constitution,” Creel said.
The Oventic gathering was the group’s first high-profile event since the so-called Zapatour in 2001, when Marcos and his supporters marched to Mexico City in support of an indigenous bill.
“The EZLN is moving further away from the viability of war and putting itself very firmly in the political arena,” Chiapas state governor Pablo Salazar said in a local radio report, Reuters reported.
In a July communiqué, Marcos wrote “whole years preparing to fire a weapon and it turns out that what we have to fire are words.”
The Zapatista revolution was poorly funded and a cease-fire was signed between the rebels and the government in 1997. The group failed to garner much support from local Indian tribes, who were put off by its militaristic attitude and Marxist political slant.
Still, charismatic Marcos rose to international fame with a series of witty, moving and poetic diatribes, many of which were transmitted over the Internet. Others were published in the Mexican newspaper, La Jornada.
The Zapatistas take their name from early 20th century Mexican revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata.