Date: Sat, 30 Mar 1996 07:59:52 -0600
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Via NY Transfer News Collective * All the News that Doesn't Fit
Truce Provokes Mixed Reactions
Cerigua Weekly Briefs, No.13, 27 March 1996
Guatemala City, March 27. The halt to offensive military operations announced last week by the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) and the government engendered great optimism. But there is also concern about its limitations.
The March 20 announcement sparked talk about a final end to the war. Foreign Minister Eduardo Stein said a final peace accord could be signed with the URNG by September 15. And URNG Commander Pablo Monsanto described this goal as "admirable and attainable," if and when the parties commit themselves to working seriously.
Calls from various sectors to complement the rebel initiative by demobilizing the Civil Defense Patrols (PACs) prompted Defense Minister Gen. Julio Balconi to announce that by the end of April Army High Command will consider demobilizing the paramilitary patrols.
PACs were formed in 1981 during the government of dictator Gen. Efrain Rios Montt to act as informers and enforcers for the military in the countryside. Described as voluntary, in fact many campesinos were forced to join the patrols and have suffered harassment if they refuse or resign. PACs have also been accused of numerous human rights violations.
But actions by the URNG since the announcement have led to confusion about what the "suspension of military offensive actions" really means. On March 25, armed rebels took over a small town in Escuintla province, held a short meeting to explain the progress of the peace talks, and left. And Monsanto announced March 24 that the URNG will continue to collect war taxes. He said the tax it is not included in the military actions the URNG pledged to suspend.
URNG Commander Rolando Morn said the suspension of military offensives should not be confused with a truce or cease-fire, but that it is a step to accelerate the peace negotiations.
Army spokesperson Col. Guillermo Caal Dvila told the daily Grfico that in his view the truce should include all URNG actions. But, he said, the government peace commission COPAZ should be the entity to discuss with the URNG what the truce entails.
The rebel announcement that war taxes will continue has drawn criticism from all sides. Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge Mario Garcia Laguardia said the tax, collected mostly from large plantation owners, violates international humanitarian law because it endangers civilian lives. Humberto Preti Jorquin, president of the Chamber of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF) called on the government to prohibit the URNG from using the taxes to fund its political work.
The National Indigenous and Campesino Coalition (CONIC) stated March 22 that it shares the general satisfaction with the limited cease-fire, but warned that it "could be used as a topic to distract international attention from Guatemala while the repression against the Mayan people and campesinos by state 'security' forces increases." The group also noted that end of offensive actions "could be taken advantage of by the government and landowners to strengthen their interests."
And an editorial in the daily la Republica stated, "The great joy over the cease-fire... means nothing if criminal wantonness in the streets is unstoppable."