The government of Mexico released three Zapatista sympathizers Thursday who were sentenced to eight years in prison in the southern state of Chiapas.
Rafael Lopez Satis, Gustavo Estrada and Alejandro Mendez had been found guilty of drug trafficking, weapon violations and criminal association.
Their release was the latest attempt by President Vicente Fox to bring the Zapatista rebels back to the negotiating table.
Fox made bringing peace to troubled Chiapas a top priority after taking office in December 2000. He has closed seven army bases built to surround Zapatista strongholds, freed nearly 100 rebel prisoners and sent a Zapatista-backed Indian rights bill to Congress. But the rebels refused to resume formal peace talks with the government after legislators watered down the bill.
“I am happy to leave prison and be reunited again with my family,” Mendez said. “I will join [rebel] ranks to continue the armed fight, and if it is necessary give my blood and life for the improvement of Mexico’s Indian villages.”
Luis Alvarez, Fox’s peace envoy, said he hoped the rebels saw the release as a goodwill gesture by Fox’s government, but Mendez said he believed the only reason he was being freed was that he had served more than half his sentence.
Zapatista guerrillas staged a brief, bloody rebellion in 1994, but since then their conflict with the government has been mostly a war of words.