UN Takes On Task of Ensuring Salvadoran Peace
PEACEKEEPERS. Expanded role includes oversight of police while new force is trained
FINCA SAN FRANCISCO, EL SALVADOR — BRAZILIAN Capt. Jose Luis Jaborandy Jr. has spent the morning escorting a band of 10 rebels toting an assortment of Soviet-made rifles to this Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) camp on the verdant slopes of the San Salvador volcano.
"We're the eyes and ears of peace. So far, it's not been a difficult job," says the gregarious infantry officer.
Captain Jaborandy and his partner, Spanish artillery Comdr. Jose Ruiz de Clavijo Jimenez, are among the 332 military observers from some 30 nations helping fulfill the United Nations peacekeeping function in El Salvador.
But the UN has much more than an observer role here. It is deeply involved in implementing the peace accords. UN officials are wearing the hats of mediators, police, economic advisers, and human rights monitors.
The closest comparison is the part the UN played in Namibia's peace process. But El Salvador represents "the first time a member state has ever requested the UN to play so many different roles as a product of peace negotiations," says Mario Zamorano, the spokesman for the UN team here, known by its Spanish acronym, ONUSAL.
Never before has the UN set up a human rights observer mission before a cease-fire. To curb violence and instill confidence in the peace process, last July a UN team established six offices around the country with more than 100 people to monitor human rights violations.
"In the face of right-wing denouncements and physical threats, they've done a pretty decent job," comments a European diplomat based here.
In coming weeks, the UN Development Program will play a crucial role in mediating between the FMLN and the Salvadoran government over economic reconstruction plans for the war-battered nation. A top UN official also attends all meetings of the National Commission for the Consolidation of Peace (COPAZ). COPAZ is the committee made up of representatives of all parties and is charged with implementing the peace accords.
And, as agreed upon, the UN is now installing 631 international police observers throughout the country to look over the shoulders of the National Police. During the next two years, the current police force will be replaced with graduates of a new police academy.
Until the new force is set up, UN observers will be in police stations and on patrols to "supervise the operations and behavior" of the National Police, ensure "impartial application of the law," and prevent "intimidation, reprisals, and other violations of civil rights," according to a report by the UN secretary-general.
The heavy UN oversight of the police is aimed at preventing the violent clashes that have arisen in neighboring Nicaragua. At the close of the war there in 1990, the Nicaraguan police and armed forces remained largely composed of Sandinista loyalists. This has resulted in angry claims of prejudicial law enforcement.
Meanwhile, Jaborandy and the other "Blue Berets" are coordinating the movement of guerrilla and government forces to assigned locations. The first separation took place from Feb. 1 to Feb. 6. In the next two weeks, FMLN troops will concentrate in 15 sites and government soldiers in 65 others. Then the UN forces will oversee an inventory of weapons, mines, and explosives. The FMLN will destroy its own weapons in early October under UN supervision. And in stages, the FMLN troops will all return to civilian
life by Oct. 31.
Currently, Jaborandy and Commander Ruiz live out of the back of their white four-wheel-drive vehicle decorated with ONUSAL insignias. They eat mostly their own provisions and sleep on the concrete floor of a farmhouse shared by about 75 FMLN troops. "Our alarm clock is the troops doing calisthenics at 5:30 a.m.," jokes Jaborandy.
The UN team is in constant radio contact with central command in San Salvador. Upon arrival at the camp, Jaborandy and Ruiz held a three-hour briefing session with the FMLN soldiers, explaining the peace accords point by point. The rebel troops (like their government counterparts) cannot leave the camp - except for special reasons such as medical appointments. In any case, everyone must check in and out with the UN team.
"We can't order them to do anything. We can only make recommendations. If they decide to violate the accords, we simply report it," Ruiz explains.
As Jaborandy says, the task so far hasn't been too taxing. To date, both sides have kept within the accords with only minor missteps. But the European diplomat notes, "ONUSAL's job is going to become increasingly difficult. They're going to have several thousand restless young FMLN men sitting around, unable to travel. That's when ONUSAL will have to make this peace work."
FMLN officials say they plan to hold political and vocational classes in the transition camps to keep their troops busy and prepare them for civilian life.
The UN forces may also take some heat in monitoring the ousting of peasants from farmland illegally occupied during and just after the war. "Salvadoran society has grown accustomed to foreign intermediaries - priests, nuns, refugee workers - intervening to sort things out," the diplomat says.
Foreigners often have taken the peasant's side. If the Army was forcibly recruiting youths, for example, typically the resident foreigner was asked to appeal to the local Army commander to halt the practice.
"But if ONUSAL observers just stand by watching as peasants are [legally but] forcibly removed," the diplomat says, "they'll be perceived as taking a side."