Warring Parties Sign Accord, Raising Hope for Guatemalan Peace
MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The Guatemalan government and leftist rebels broke a five-month deadlock in peace talks by agreeing Friday to defend the rights of the Central American nation’s Mayan Indian majority.
The accord raises new hopes for peace in Guatemala, where 150,000 people _ most of them Mayan civilians _ were killed or ``disappeared″ in 34 years of civil war.
The agreement leaves five major points to be negotiated in a final peace accord, which both sides hope to reach by August. That would give the rebels time to participate in November national elections.
``Today marks a dawn in Guatemalan history,″ said Gaspar Ilom, commander of the rebels’ Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity, or URNG.
The talks broke down after a July accord established a truth commission to look into the disappearances of civilians. The talks, held in Mexico, resumed in October.
Other items that remain on the agenda include reducing the size and power of the Guatemalan army and land reform. Friday’s accord will not take effect until the peace agreement is completed.
The Guatemalan government promised to promote constitutional reforms to recognize the Maya, Xinca and Garifuna Indians and to adopt legal reforms to end discrimination and sexual harassment, respect the use of traditional dress and languages and promote bilingual education.
Implementing its provisions depends on the government and Congress. The United Nations recently criticized Guatemala’s army for consistently violating human rights and its civilian government for failing to enforce the law.
The accord failed to meet indigenous demands for ancestral territory, local political autonomy, and measures to combat the extreme poverty suffered by members of Guatemala’s 21 ethnic Mayan groups.
Chief government negotiator Hector Rosada said congressional leaders had promised to promote reforms in the accord. He said he was confident of ``an absolute willingness on the army’s part to strengthen civilian power.″
The current president of Guatemala’s Congress, Efrain Rios Montt, is a former military dictator who seized power in a coup.