Terror charges against Mexico rebel leader expire

Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista National Liberation Army, seen in La Realidad, Chiapas on January 7, 1996, would have faced 40 years in prison if convicted of the terrorism charges (AFP Photo/Oriana Elicabe) (AFP/File)

Mexico City (AFP) - A Mexican judge has ruled that the charges of terrorism, rebellion and sedition against Zapatista rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos reached their statute of limitations after 21 years, authorities said Tuesday.

The court in the southern state of Chiapas said 12 other rebels were also no longer facing those and other charges, which were lodged in 1995.

Marcos would have faced 40 years in prison if convicted of the terrorism charges, but the statute of limitations expired earlier this month.

The masked, pipe-smoking rebel became the standard-bearer of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) when it emerged in the impoverished state of Chiapas on January 1, 1994, to fight for more rights for the majority indigenous population.

He was last seen in public in May 2015, even though he had suggested the previous year that he was quitting his role as the movement's spokesman and changing his pseudonym to Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano, in honor of a fallen comrade.

Authorities have identified Marcos as Rafael Sebastian Guillen, a former philosophy professor who was born in the northern state of Tamaulipas and taught at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in the capital.

The 12-day rebellion of 1994 left dozens of people dead.

A peace pact was signed in 1996, but the Zapatistas' demands were never met. The rebels created their own autonomous justice, health and education systems in around 30 communities in Chiapas.