MEXICO CITY — ON paper, the war in El Salvador ends today.
By signing their names to the peace accord, presidents and diplomats from 12 countries gathered here will commit their nations to the close of a savage 12-year civil war that cost more than 75,000 lives - a war during which the United States spent more than $4 billion backing successive Salvadoran governments against a leftist insurgency.
"Now, the real challenge begins - the transition to peace," says Marcos Jimenez, a 32-year-old Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) commander who has spent all of his adult life as a soldier.
Two years of intense United Nations-mediated negotiations came to fruition early Tuesday morning. The final pact calls for a cease-fire beginning Feb. 1. In the next month, the forces will be separated, moving to designated areas around the country. By Oct. 31, the Salvadoran Army will disband three and one-half out of five US-trained anti-insurgency battalions. The FMLN army - estimated at about 7,000 members - will be dismantled during the same period. During the next two years, the Salvadoran governme nt forces will be cut in half to about 30,000 members.
The FMLN plans to form a political party, positioning itself for the 1994 presidential elections.
But the most profound change, analysts say, will be the curbing of the Salvadoran military's broad internal control.
"This agreement changes the power equation dramatically," says Robert White, US ambassador to El Salvador from March 1980 to February 1981. "There's been a highly political military enforcement of every aspect of national security - with US support. Now it will be pared and confined to external defense."
The military-run National Intelligence Directorate, the National Guard, the Treasury Police, the Customs Police, and the National Police - totaling more than 17,000 members - will each be dissolved during the next two years.
In their place, a civilian-run security ministry will govern a new national police force of 10,000 to 12,000 officers. The majority of the new force must have had no wartime experience. Former FMLN combatants and National Police members can apply, and hold positions at all levels, but there must be parity between the number of participants from these two groups. A new National Police academy will also be created, and neither its staff nor directors can have served in the Salvadoran Army.
The accords also include commissions on human rights (including one to "purify" the Salvadoran military), land reforms (including land for combatants and for peasants in rebel-held territory), reorganization of the judicial and electoral systems, and FMLN participation in economic reconstruction programs.
A five-day meeting of the two Salvadoran sides and potential donor nations to develop plans and seek about $1 billion to rebuild the war-ravaged nation is scheduled to be held under UN auspices in late February.
"A principal cause of this conflict was economic differences. If we don't overcome economic injustices, then the future is dark," says Mr. Jimenez. "Peace is synonymous with reconstruction."
Disputes over interpreting the treaty are likely. And given anti-accord elements in the Army, "I wouldn't rule out the possibility of a military coup attempt," White says. But he expects such an attempt would fail. White says he thinks the treaty will work because of its popularity in El Salvador and the active UN role in backing it.
The UN currently has a 160-member squad in El Salvador monitoring human rights. On Tuesday, the UN Security Council approved plans to send about 1,000 UN peacekeeping troops to supervise the cease-fire and demilitarization process.
The accord, analysts note, was reached with considerable pressure, cajoling, and support from many interested nations. Thus the location of the signing and the presence of presidents from Latin America and Spain as well as US Secretary of State James Baker III and Cuban Foreign Minister Isidoro Malmierca.