Guatemala struggles to comply with accord. Cease-fire tough to set up in nation that says it has no civil war

Guatemala, a country that has worked to build an image as a regional peacemaker while playing down its own civil war, faces a few difficult obstacles in complying with the Central American peace plan. A Guatemalan opposition leader, Jorge Serrano Elias, says Guatemala still has a lot to do to meet the peace accord's goals by the Nov. 5 deadline and that a cease-fire tops the list. (Guatemala and Nicaragua use Nov. 5 as the deadline, while the other three signatories - Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica - use Nov. 7.)

Mr. Serrano Elias is a member of the national reconciliation committee, which was set up to monitor the country's efforts in fulfilling the peace accord's conditions.

``We cannot judge the cease-fire aspect because there isn't one [a war], so we have no way to tell if both sides are sticking to it,'' Serrano Elias says.

The government denies that there is a war. Roberto Valle, a deputy for the ruling Christian Democrat Party, says the rebels do not represent a significant fighting force, therefore there is not a ``conventional war'' and a cease-fire is unnecessary. Politicians, diplomats, and government officials estimate that rebel forces number between 2,000 and 3,000.

Nonetheless, Mr. Valle and two other congressmen met with three guerrilla leaders in Madrid three weeks ago for the first talks ever held between both sides. The meeting initially showed signs of progress. The government accepted a longstanding rebel proposal for a dialogue, and the guerrillas toned down their demands. The rebels had previously demanded that the military be tried for human rights violations it committed during its war against the guerrillas. But now their key demand is that some 38,000 cases of people who have disappeared be ``cleared up.''

But European diplomats and political observers speculated that President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Ar'evalo's decision to talk with rebel leaders was more of a show than a serious attempt at negotiation. The Army was reportedly upset that the talks were taking place and was unwilling to even consider a cease-fire.

Since the talks, the rebels have announced renewed attacks in the countryside after keeping a unilateral cease-fire for the duration of the talks.

Another stipulation considered difficult for Guatemala is allowing internal refugees to return to their place of origin. Social workers report many peasants are starting to come down from the western highlands after having lived there in internal exile, some for as many as nine years.

There is no civilian government institution to deal with these people. A government source said the Army is dealing with the situation. The military has traditionally prevented internal refugees from returning to their homes and forced them to live in Army-run ``model villages.'' Since Oct. 16, about 960 peasants have left Quiche Province.

Serrano Elias questions the democratization process in Guatemala and the free state of the 1985 elections that brought the country's first civilian government to office in 16 years. He charges the Christian Democrats with using fraud.

But most diplomats and political observers applaud Guatemala's transition from military to civilian rule and say the elections were fair. They also say Guatemala is fulfilling most requirements outlined in the peace plan.

The government has met with the internal opposition. It has formed a national reconciliation committee, consisting of representatives from:

The government - Vice-President Roberto Carpio Nicolle.

The Roman Catholic Church - Msgr. Juan Gerardi.

The political opposition - Jorge Serrano Elias.

And a ``prominent, independent citizen'' - writer Teresa de Zarco.

And the Guatemalan Congress is expected to pass an amnesty law for the rebels soon. One Western diplomat said the government has done a good job in meeting the specifications.

Mr. Cerezo has focused a lot of attention on his foreign policy in the region - campaigning for peace negotiations and keeping a neutral stance in the US-Nicaraguan conflict. He initiated stronger participation by the Central Americans themselves in the regional peace effort when, in his January 1986 inauguration speech, he called for the formation of a regional parliament and invited four of the region's presidents to meet with him in Guatemala.

Thus, many Guatemalans, inside and outside the government, say they think Cerezo deserves equal credit with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez, who received the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.

While Cerezo has dedicated a lot of time to promoting peace in the region and to boosting Guatemala's image abroad, critics say he has not paid enough attention to internal problems. In recent weeks, Guatemalans have been preoccupied with a severe clash between the government and the private sector over a new tax law.

One maid, when asked about the accord, said, ``I don't know anything about it, but you should have seen the strike.''

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