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Indian Rights Pact Signed For Guatemala

San Francisco Chronicle, 1 March 1995, page A10

Mexico City—Guatemala's government and leftist guerrillas signed an accord yesterday to protect the rights of Indians, in a step toward ending the country's 34-year-old civil war.

Despite the pact, reached after months of U.N.-moderated negotiations in the Mexican capital, several other subjects remain on the complex negotiating agenda governing the peace talks, which have continued in fits and starts since 1990. A final accord to end the war still is believed to be at least months—if not years—away.

Yesterday's accord will not take effect until a final peace pact is completed.

The agreement appeared to be the result of concessions by both the government and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) rebel movement, each of which has been under intense diplomatic pressure to make some progress and keep the talks from collapsing.

The 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.

Also, bilingual judges will be appointed to indigenous communities, and state-run social services will use the native languages.

Responsibility for carrying out the pact's provisions lies solely with the government and Congress. However, the government is widely believed to have failed to comply by an agreement on human rights, signed with the rebels in March last year.

The accord failed to meet Indian and URNG demands for ancestral territory, local political autonomy and measures to combat Indian groups' extreme poverty.

Hector Rosada, president of the government's peace commission, and URNG commanders signed the accord in a ceremony at Mexico's foreign ministry that was attended by diplomats from the talks' sponsoring nations: the United States, Mexico, Norway, Spain, Venezuela and Colombia.

The next stage in the negotiations will focus on socioeconomic reforms aimed at reducing the poverty suffered by 80 percent of Guatemalans. Another thorny topic remaining on the agenda is reform of the nation's all-powerful military, which is considered by human rights groups to be the most brutal in the hemisphere.

Guatemala's Indians have borne the brunt of the civil war in which an estimated 140,000 people have been killed or disappeared, mostly at the hands of the army and army-linked death squads.