The leader of Mexico's Zapatista rebels says the group is handing over control of indigenous villages to newly-created town councils.

Subcomandante Marcos made the announcement Saturday in a taped message played during a festival in the southern state of Chiapas.

He said the town councils will be responsible for negotiating disputes among Indian groups and collecting local taxes. Subcomandante Marcos said the rebel soldiers will no longer operate road checkpoints, but will be able to respond to emergency situations.

There was no immediate comment from federal officials on whether the self-determined councils are legal.

In 1994, Zapatista rebels from the Chiapas region staged a brief revolt to fight for the rights of indigenous people. Several communities have since opposed the rule of state and federal governments.

Most of Mexico's indigenous people live in the poorest regions of the country.