The Mexican government has agreed to make sweeping economic and political reforms after talks with aboriginal rebels who launched an uprising in January. Leaders of the rebel Zapatista National Liberal Army were cautious about the accord but expressed guarded optimism. “We now have the obligation to reflect well on what their words say,” said one Zapatista leader.

The 32-point agreement reads as an admission of the failures of the so-called modernization program of Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Under one provision of the accord, the government agreed to carefully study the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement on the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where the rebellion started. The accord promises job retraining to those hurt by free trade, as well as investment in new industries and protection from tougher foreign competition. The accord could also lead to new laws to assure impartial elections.

The accord must still be approved by a special session of the Mexican Congress and by peasants in the Mayan communities that supported the rebels. Conservative ranchers and political leaders in Chiapas are furious and have reportedly let loose death squads to kill peasant leaders