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Fox Promotes Dialogue With Armed Groups

The government of Mexican President Vicente Fox is trying to promote dialogue with various armed groups in order to avoid violence. But, officials are also keeping a wary eye on these groups because of the potential damage they can do.

In a first-ever meeting between a Mexican Secretary of Defense and the Mexican Congress' Defense Committee, General Gerardo Clemente Vega Garcia played down the threat of insurgent groups. He said these groups have not put the government in a difficult position, but nevertheless the danger they represent is not to be taken lightly.

He said any armed group is dangerous depending on what they do and the extent to which they can do damage. The Mexican Defense Secretary said the groups currently operating in the country can be managed by the authorities assigned to them and represent no grave threat.

General Vega said such groups are not the concern of the armed forces but are being investigated by the Attorney General's office. The Defense Secretary also backed the call for dialogue with these groups made last week by Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha.

Over the weekend, the presence of guerrilla bands in Mexico was also addressed by President Fox, who said armed groups should know that the doors to dialogue are open. He rejected the use of violence to control such groups and called on them to work with the government to solve social problems.

In a meeting with leaders of his own party, the National Action Party, on Saturday, Mr. Fox indicated that the government is currently investigating 300 to 400 persons who are suspected of being involved with guerrilla organizations. The best known insurgent group in Mexico is the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, in the southern state of Chiapas, but that group has not carried out any violent actions in recent years. President Fox says a more worrisome group is the Popular Revolutionary Army, known by its Spanish initials as the EPR. This group operates in the southwestern states of Guerrero and Oaxaca and has been blamed for some attacks on police and army patrols in rural areas. A splinter group from the EPR is believed to have been behind the bombing of several banks in Mexico on August 8.