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Monday, December 29, 1997 Published at 23:10 GMT



Despatches


This week marks the first anniversary of the peace settlement which put an end to Central America's longest civil war, in Guatemala.

More than 150,000 people died during the 36 years of fighting, whilst another one-and-a-half million Guatemalans were forced into exile as refugees.

As Mike Lanchin reports, one year on, although the fighting has stopped, human rights violations have dropped and the rebels are now back in civilian life, Guatemala remains still a long way from peace:

The war was brought to an end on December 29, 1996 when the conservative government of President Alvaro Arzu and the leftist Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) signed a complex peace treaty under the auspices of the UN.

When the government and the rebels signed the peace treaty 12 months ago it was heralded as the beginning of a new era in Guatemala and in Central America.

After all the war was the only remaining internal conflict still raging in the region.

A year on most Guatemalans feel they have little cause for celebration.

It is true the peace accords brought almost 3,000 guerrillas down from the mountains to hand in their weapons and return to civilian life.

Gross human rights violations, once synonymous with Guatemala, have dropped radically and the formerly all-powerful army has reduced its numbers and lost its veto over civilian power.

But peace appears to have done little to change the fate of almost 80 per cent of the 11 million inhabitants who still live below the poverty line.

Nor has it done anything to prevent a seemingly uncontrollable crime wave which is making the country once again a black spot on the Central American tourist map.

Over the last year there have been around 10,000 violent deaths and 500 kidnappings for ransom.

Highway robberies in broad daylight are common on most major roads, while in November alone the police reported 50 separate bank robberies.

Many people blame ex-soldiers and ex-guerrillas, now without jobs, for the rise in delinquency.

The United Nations mission monitoring the peace accords has warned that most people do not feel safe or financially secure.

It has called on the government to speed up training for the new civilian police force, as well as much needed reforms to the judicial system - both aspects contemplated in the peace treaty.

But with the international community's interest now flagging in funding what promises to be a drawn-out peace process, time may be running out for Guatemala.





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