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<!-- sublime: syntax 'Packages/CSS/CSS.tmLanguage -->
If you want to declare more modelines, you need to precede them with "<!-- sublime:", because "<!--" is the only TM_COMMENT_START variable defined for XML files. To make them valid XML, though, you'll need to include "-->" too.
The *.zcml will work as you describe because Sublime Text doesn't assign them any syntax (at least in my config), so SublimeModeliens defaults to the prefix "# sublime:". As it can be seen in your example, it's your modeline that's making the file XML, so before that it was unknown.
It seems I won't have to change the code after all... :)