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Rebels pay tribute to former bishop

Leftist Zapatista rebels expressed their condolences over the death of retired Bishop Samuel Ruiz, a supporter of tribal rights who served as a mediator in peace talks between the Mexican government and the guerrillas.

The Zapatista Army of National Liberation praised the Bishop for "fighting for peace with justice and dignity for Indians" in the southern state of Chiapas.

"He not only worried about the serious situation of misery and marginalisation of the native people of Chiapas. He also worked, with his heroic pastoral team, to improve these indignant conditions," said the statement, which was signed by Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos.

The Bishop died on January 24 of complications from diabetes at the age of 86.

Thousands of people attended his funeral at the cathedral in San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas.

The brief armed uprising by the Zapatistas in 1994 to demand greater indigenous rights ended in an uneasy truce, with the rebels holed up in "autonomous" townships where they do not recognise government authority.

The Bishop led the diocese in the Chiapas highlands city from 1959 to 2000, when he stepped aside after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Soon after the uprising, the Bishop was chosen to mediate talks between the government and the rebels.

In 1998, the government pressured the Bishop to resign as mediator, implying he was too sympathetic to the guerrillas.

But President Felipe Calderon praised the Bishop after his death, saying he "struggled to build a more just, more equal, dignified Mexico without discrimination," and that "He always acted with integrity and moral rectitude."

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