Salvadorans Clash On Peace Deadlines
Setbacks in implementing accords center on nature of security forces
SAN SALVADOR — NEARLY four months after signing accords that ended El Salvador's 12-year civil war, the government and rebels have failed to implement two of the accords' key provisions: the government's abolition of feared security forces and the start of the demobilization of the guerrilla army.
The two sides blame each other for their failure to comply, and have exchanged harsh attacks. Yet neither they nor observers here believe that the setbacks will lead to a resumption of the war.
Indeed, United Nations authorities have noted that the distinguishing feature of the first post-war months is that there have been no serious violations of the cease-fire agreement.
"There have been no concrete violations of the cease-fire. No one has been killed, and there have been no cases of one side shooting at the other side," says Mario Zamorano, spokesman for the UN observer mission here.
The Jan. 16 accords include a complex calendar of steps, culminating in the final demobilization of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas by Oct. 31.
The accords state that "the National Guard and the Treasury Police will be eliminated as security forces" by March 2. Human rights groups had frequently charged these two forces with human rights violations.
When the March 2 deadline arrived, the government announced the formation of two new bodies - a Frontier Guard and a Military Police - which were composed of the same men who had constituted the former security forces, now wearing different uniforms.
The move provoked outrage among political leaders and rebels. The security forces' central garrisons remain occupied, and people in outlying areas report that security force members still occupy posts there.
An even more serious setback, according to rebel leader Schafik Handal, is the National Assembly's April 23 passage of a bill which, instead of eliminating the National Guard and Treasury Police, simply said that they cannot function as security forces.
The bill was called "a monstrosity" by opposition Deputy Ruben Zamora. "What this shows us is that the government isn't willing to comply with the accord, and that, on the contrary, what it wants to do is revive institutions like these, which shouldn't exist in El Salvador anymore."
With the passage of the bill, says Mr. Handal, "juridically, these forces continue to exist, with their names and structures." The government's aim "is to avoid compliance," he concludes.
Gen. Mauricio Vargas, who was the Army representative at the peace talks, maintains that the accord simply stipulates the elimination of the "security force" function of the two forces. That, he said, was accomplished by the new law.
"We believe the FMLN should keep its forces where they are, and just make a public declaration that they are no longer guerrillas," says Hector Silva, leader of the center-left Democratic Convergence contingent in the Assembly. "That is equivalent of what the government is doing."
The FMLN has acknowledged that it failed to move all of its troops to the specified sites and to demobilize 20 percent of its combatants by May 1. On that day, guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos said the rebels would refuse to comply "because the Treasury Police and the National Guard haven't been demobilized, because the armed forces haven't concentrated, and because in general there's been a failure to fulfill the accords."
Mr. Zamorano says the disputes have created "a climate of tension, but this doesn't imply that there's any real danger" of a breakdown in the peace process.
The government says a quickened pace in the future in implementing the many provisions of the accords can make it possible to meet the original Oct. 31 deadline despite delays so far.
Mr. Villalobos disagrees. "I think this will go beyond Oct. 31," he says. "The accords will be fulfilled - with delays."