THE government of El Salvador and leftist rebels, who began the new year by agreeing to end 12 years of civil war, are to sign formal peace accords in Mexico in two weeks.
"This agreement initiates a new period for Salvadorans," President Alfredo Cristiani said of a wide-ranging peace pact reached at the United Nations on Wednesday.
Mr. Cristiani told a UN news conference early Wednesday that his nation, which has seen an estimated 75,000 killed in the war, could now begin spiritual as well as material reconstruction.
The peace plan, the product of the latest round of intensive negotiations that started Dec. 16, begins with a cease-fire effective Feb. 1, to last for a nine-month period ending Oct. 31. Both sides in the past 20 months of negotiations had already agreed on a reform of the country's judiciary, human rights safeguards, electoral reform, a reduction of the 55,000-member armed forces, and an overhaul of security services.
A communique said a few "technical" issues remained to be resolved, involving a timetable for dissolving the rebels' military structure and integrating them into civil life.
Negotiations resume Jan. 5 on those issues. If no final agreement is reached, the new UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, will make decisions for them before Jan. 16, the communique said. The peace accords will be signed Jan. 16 in Mexico.
The United States has volunteered to be a guarantor of the settlement if the peace accords are implemented. It has also offered a reconstruction program that includes aid from Europe, Canada, and Japan. Washington has supported a succession of Salvadoran governments with more than $4 billion in aid since 1979.
Schafik Handal, one of the five commanders of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) told a UN news conference early Wednesday: "The war that ended without victory for either side ended in an accord that signifies great things for the country."
A main stumbling block to the talks has been the dominance of the Salvadoran Army, accused of gross human rights violations. The two sides had earlier agreed on its reduction and "purification."
Mr. Handal said all of the accords should begin to be implemented during the cease-fire period. If all goes according to schedule, he said, the rebel forces would demobilize by then.
Wednesday's accord draws on a 75-page document that will form the basis of a formal peace settlement in the small Central American country of 5 million people.
For Javier Perez de Cuellar, who spent the last day of his 10 years as UN secretary-general Tuesday pursuing the peace accord, the agreement was particularly gratifying.
"I am a free man, I feel as light as a feather," said the Peruvian, as he left the UN Wednesday.
The government was said to have presented plans on how to reduce the Army over a two-year period to half its size and abolish some paramilitary counterinsurgency battalions.
The rebels also wanted the government to allow peasant squatters in areas they control to continue living there. The government instead offered to settle the peasants but not necessarily on private property they now occupy. The accords apparently call for a special commission to hear individual cases.
The existing Army-controlled internal-security forces, numbering about 17,000, will be phased out, and a new civilian police force is to be created.