December 29, 2000

Four years later, Guatemalan peace promises still unfulfilled

                  GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala (AP) -- Four years ago Friday, a sweeping
                  peace deal brought one of the world's longest, bloodiest civil wars to a close
                  with promises to solve the economic and social problems that led to the fighting.

                  Signed here in front of 1,200 foreign dignitaries, the agreement ended 36 years
                  of fighting between hard-line state forces and leftist, mostly Indian guerrilla
                  groups in Guatemala. The once-seemingly fragile peace has held since then, and
                  there has been no recurrence of the brutality that left some 200,000 people, the
                  majority Mayan peasants, dead during the war.

                  However, 119 of 250 measures aimed at undoing centuries of repression and
                  ease the country's staggering poverty have yet to be enacted.

                  Promised, but still unseen, are land reform and agricultural subsidies, new
                  election laws, the overhaul of Guatemala's justice system and laws guaranteeing
                  the protection of human rights. Other unrealized goals include resettlement of the
                  100,000 refugees who fled to Mexico to escape the war, legal recognition of
                  Indian rights, a full disarming of former combatants and clear legal limits on the
                  powerful military.

                  The peace treaty set the end of this year as the deadline for implementation of the
                  reforms, but on Dec. 13 President Alfonso Portillo unveiled a new schedule
                  extending the deadline until the end of 2004. The new plan moves
                  anti-discrimination measures, women's rights, health care and education reforms
                  to the top of the agenda.

                  On Friday, Portillo was scheduled to mark the peace accord's fourth birthday by
                  laying a rose in front of a downtown peace monument and then having lunch
                  with hundreds of children who "have been allowed to grow up in a peaceful

                  "We have learned that peace has a cost but also a benefit," Portillo said at a news
                  conference trumpeting the new peace schedule. "We will now realize more of
                  those benefits."

                  Critics, though, charge that four years of inaction show the government has no
                  interest in keeping its promises.

                  "A rescheduling was inevitable because there was no way we could meet the
                  December 31 deadline," said Arnoldo Noriega, an ex-guerrilla commander who
                  was a member of the original commission overseeing the peace accords. "Even
                  after this convenient extension, we will have to see a major shift in political will
                  during the next two years or we will lose forever the chance to meet goals vitally
                  important to Guatemala."

                  Some blame the Congress, headed since January by former dictator Efrain Rios
                  Montt and controlled by the conservative party he founded. During an 18-month
                  dictatorship between 1982 and 1983, Rios Montt oversaw one of the bloodiest
                  stretches of the war, orchestrating a scorched-earth campaign against the rebels.

                  "The problem is that the same actors trying to resolve the peace process' errors
                  are the ones who committed them," said Hector Rosada, a former peace
                  secretary. "The last word on important questions lies with Efrain Rios Montt, a
                  man who does not believe in the peace accords."

                  Rios Montt attended last week's press conference announcing the new
                  peace-process schedule but left without commenting.

                  In a 1998 report, the Catholic church's human rights office in Guatemala blamed
                  the army for 95 percent of the killings and disappearances during the long civil
                  war. And last week, the office said it will press local courts to try Rios Montt for
                  allegedly ordering massacres in the 1980s. That marked the first time
                  Guatemalan courts have been asked to try him.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.