EL PAISNAL, EL SALVADOR — LEFTIST rebels began destroying the weapons of their 12-year guerrilla war Wednesday, providing the most vivid symbol to date of El Salvador's march toward lasting peace.
Guerrillas took blowtorches to hundreds of grenade launchers, heavy-caliber machine guns, and assault rifles under United Nations peacekeepers' supervision at demobilization camps around the country.
After weeks of mounting tension, El Salvador's peace process lurched forward this week as President Alfredo Cristiani presented UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali with a detailed plan for carrying through a purge of corrupt and abusive officers from the armed forces agreed to in El Salvador's January peace pact.
In response, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) Tuesday demobilized 1,300 combatants, handed in its final arms inventory, and announced a quick start to the destruction of its weapons.
The FMLN held back Wednesday destroying its best weapons and sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles, saying they would be kept until the government complies with scheduled Army cuts and political reforms.
The last 2,000 armed guerrillas handed in their arms Dec. 15. The government still must enact judicial and electoral reforms, dismantle its military intelligence apparatus, and demobilize the Army's elite Atlacatl Battalion. Challenge to Cuba embargo
Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz and more than 100 United States citizens greeted the arrival of a ship Wednesday night carrying 15 tons of medicines, food products, school supplies, wheelchairs, bicycles, and Bibles, donated in 90 US cities.
Pastors for Peace, the organizers of a campaign seeking donations in the US, said that they were acting in defiance of the 30-year-old US trade embargo on the island nation.
A State Department spokesman, said Nov. 25 that Pastors for Peace did not violate the US embargo on trade with Cuba because it had received a license from the US Treasury Department.
A substantial part of the donated goods will go to special schools for the deaf, the blind, and other handicapped children, the Rev. Raul Suarez, a Cuban Baptist minister, told the gathering.
The collapse of communist rule in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe dealt a blow to the Cuban economy. Food, medicines, school supplies, and virtually all consumer goods are in critically short supply.