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Civil War Ends in El Salvador With Signing of Treaty : Peace: President Alfredo Cristiani and 10 guerrilla leaders take part in the ceremony that mixes tears and handshakes. The U.N. will supervise disarmament.

January 17, 1992|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With the collapse of worldwide communism, the defeat of the Sandinistas in a 1990 election and the decline of Cuba as an international revolutionary force, the FMLN saw its chances of seizing power slip away.

The United States, meanwhile, abandoned its view of the guerrillas as a Soviet-backed threat to its influence in Latin America. And it lost patience with the Salvadoran army's atrocities, such as the murders of six Jesuit priests during a rebel offensive in 1989. Thanks in part to a peace effort launched by then-President Oscar Arias Sanchez of Costa Rica, pressure for negotiations grew.

Thursday's ceremony was a celebration of the Latin American statesmanship that nudged the stubborn conflict to a close. On hand were the presidents of all six Central American nations and the leaders of four countries with influential backstage roles in the Salvadoran talks--Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Spain.

Also in the audience was Arias, who helped bring about the elections that ended the eight-year war between Sandinistas and U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua. He chatted amiably with Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista president who was resoundingly defeated in that vote.

"The triumph of El Salvador is a triumph for the region," declared Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. "It is a triumph of the weapons of reason over the weapons of destruction."

Baker praised Mexico's "extraordinarily significant" contribution to the Salvadoran accord by playing host to most of the talks. U.S. officials said they hope peace would give impetus to similar negotiations under way between the government and rebels in neighboring Guatemala, which has been at a lower level of turmoil for three decades.

One key figure absent from Thursday's ceremony was Javier Perez de Cuellar, the U.N. secretary general who pushed the warring parties to an agreement on most of their differences last New Year's eve, just as his term expired.

Under the New Year's accord, the 63,175-member Salvadoran army will slash its ranks by half over a two-year period, relinquish control of public order to a new National Civil Police and allow a civilian commission to purge officers it deems to be abusive or corrupt. Land in rebel-held territory will be distributed to the guerrillas, their families and supporters now farming it.

Rebel leaders acknowledged Thursday that their insurgency had failed in its goal to crush "the power of the great lords of land and capital." But they insisted that army reform would change the country forever.

"We've achieved the conditions to begin a new battle, a political battle," guerrilla field commander Facundo Guardado told reporters. "The most important step is taking away the preponderant role of the army."

The peace talks continued into this week over four sticking points:

* A rebel demand for a quota of officers in the new police force. The rebels abandoned that position and accepted the creation of an impartial commission to name all officers.

* A timetable for troop demobilization. The rebels agreed to gather into 50 cease-fire zones starting in February and muster out between April 30 and Oct. 31, under the supervision of 1,000 U.N. peacekeeping forces. The army will gather in 100 zones. Its reduction will start with the abolition of its five counterinsurgency battalions, one a month beginning July 30.

* The details of land distribution. The government agreed to compensate former owners for land given to the rebels but said that it will relocate the occupants from any land that a former owner is unwilling to give up.

* The scope of an amnesty. The government insists that an amnesty cover all atrocities committed during the war, even the slayings of the Jesuit priests. The FMLN says it should apply only to its guerrillas who disarm. The issue is still unresolved.

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