May 2, 2000

Central American countries sign integration accord

                  MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- Gathering the small countries of central
                  America into a closer, more viable alliance -- a dream since the 1960s --
                  came a step closer to reality Tuesday when three of those nations signed a
                  commitment to tighten their ties.

                  The agreement, signed by the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador and
                  Nicaragua, pledges to integrate everything from highways to economic plans.

                  "We hope to set the foundation for carrying the process of integration, which
                  dates from the 1960s, into the 21st century," the three presidents said in a joint

                  Guatemala's Alfonso Portillo Cabrera, El Salvador's Francisco Flores Perez, and
                  Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman Lacayo represented their countries at the
                  signing ceremony, and invited Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize and Panama to join
                  the effort.

                  The accord provides for talks over the next three months to plan cooperation in
                  infrastructure, security, foreign policy and economic policy.

                  Current plans include expanding ferry service and shipping routes along the
                  countries' coasts.