War crimes amnesty approved, one of last obstacles to peace
Dec. 19, 1996
GUATEMALA CITY (AP) _ Guatemala's legislature Wednesday approved a broad amnesty for war crimes, clearing one of the last obstacles to a planned peace pact.
Lawmakers passed the bill 65-8, while police outside the single-house congress kept 50 protesters from entering.
In Mexico City, government and guerrilla negotiators were holding a last round of talks before they are to sign a definitive peace agreement Dec. 29 in Guatemala City.
The two sides were discussing a timetable for implementing terms of the peace agreement, expected to be the last discussion after five years of peace negotiations.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali reported to the Security Council that he plans to send a small military force to bolster the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Guatemala and to help with the disarming and demobilization of the rebels.
``Yes, we do want to live in peace. We have to learn how to forgive,'' said Rep. Pablo Duarte of the Guatemalan Republican Front, who voted for the bill.
Dozens of presidents and dignitaries have been invited to the signing ceremony, which would end the 36 years of war in Guatemala, Central America's last and bloodiest.
``The moment has arrived to reconcile. We must forgive one another for what has happened during the armed conflict,'' said one amnesty supporter, Jorge Briz Abularach, head of a leading business group.
Settling the amnesty issue was seen as crucial to implementing a peace accord signed by the two sides in Madrid, Spain, on Dec. 12, one of several protocols to become part of an overall pact.
Some human rights organizations opposed the amnesty measure, saying Guatemalan military or paramilitary groups are to blame for most of the killings, tortures and disappearances and should be punished.
The measure is intended to safeguard both government soldiers and rebels from prosecution, but some demanded accountability for war crimes.
A large majority of Guatemalans are of Maya extraction or other Indian descent, and many joined the rebels over the years to protest social injustice, poverty and repression.
One of the first tasks after the signing will be to disarm the fighters of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity and reincorporate them into society, government negotiator Gustavo Porras told The Associated Press.
Porras said many of the pact's provisions would have to be implemented within 90 days after the peace agreement is signed.
Under talks that accelerated this year, the negotiators came up with a deal that includes safeguards for Indian rights and culture, reconstruction and the return of leftist rebels to civilian life.
``What we're doing now is technical work to organize all the commitments in terms of time. We still have to see how we're going to incorporate that into the final agreement,'' Porras said.
The two sides agreed to a permanent cease-fire Dec. 4 in Oslo. A final accord to officially end the war is to be signed in Guatemala City.
A total estimate for the cost of implementing the peace accord was not available, but Porras said the European Community has promised to donate $260 million.