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Salvador plans to resettle 500,000 displaced persons

The Salvadorean government has drawn up contingency plans to relocate 500,000 people displaced by the nation's war, according to government officials involved in the project.

The plan, called Project 1,000, has an estimated initial cost of $100 million. Salvadorean officials say they hope to secure financing from the US Agency for International Development (AID), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and other donor countries and organizations.

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Senior AID officials in the past have denied any plans to relocate the sizable displaced population that lives mainly in squalid urban ghettos.

''We have just begun to look at the resettlement problem and there is still a significant amount of planning to be done,'' says a senior AID officer here.

''Assuming security, the first thing to do is to conduct a survey to determine how many people really want to go back and what their needs will be on return. The second problem is to identify and make available suitable land. The third problem will be ensuring them employment. We don't really have a model yet , although we have a couple of examples of programs that have worked - one with the (Roman) Catholic Church and the second involving the movement of people back to semi-abandoned Phase I farms (of the land reform program).''

Government-sponsored relocation programs, especially in neighboring Guatemala , have met with strong opposition from human-rights groups and private relief organizations which contend that government-built population centers, such as those projected by Project 1,000, are more concerned with control of population than the provision of humanitarian services.

''People are displaced from conflicted or rebel-held zones in an effort to drain away support from the guerrillas,'' says the director of a major relief organization in El Salvador, ''then these people are herded into camps where they are monitored and controlled.''

Officials involved in the design of Project 1,000, however, insist that any move will be voluntary. They say that people will be free to leave the new population centers, although they concede that displaced people would not be ''guaranteed assistance if they chose to leave.''

A report published last March by the Salvadorean government's National Committee to Assist the Displaced Population (CONADES), the organization slated to oversee food distribution to the new displaced population centers, appears to contradict the contention that a relocation effort will be voluntary.

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The report, called ''The Tentative Plan of Integral Assistance to the Displaced Population,'' recommends the ''use of indirect methods to persuade the displaced people to adopt the suggested policies.'' The report estimates that '' 20 percent of the actual population will prefer to decline assistance,'' since this percentage of the displaced population will probably refuse to relocate to the government-designated population centers. The Monitor has obtained a copy of the report.

''We have been looking at the displaced population problem since last year,'' says Louis Alonso Amaya, the director of the National Committee for the Restoration of Areas (CONARA), the organization that would oversee the relocation program.

Project 1,000, written by a group of government officials selected by the vice-president and minister of interior, will be known in El Salvador, if implemented, as ''Pechos, Trabajos, y Tortillas,'' literally, ''Roofs, Work, and Tortillas.'' This is the same name given to a controversial relocation effort instituted in Guatemala in late 1982 and early 1983. The Guatemalan relocation effort confined people displaced by the war in fenced-in population centers and pressured them to serve in government civil-defense programs.

''There will be a security element to our program,'' says Colonel Amaya, ''but it will be different from that of Guatemala. In Guatemala the civil-defense patrols were an extension of the Army, here they will have a different philosophy, a different mystique. People here will be defending democracy. The security element will be integrated into the economic, political, social, and judicial sectors of society.''

But the authors of Project 1,000 say they have not envisioned civil-defense patrols as part of the project.

''This distribution of food is a temporary solution,'' says one of the authors of Project 1,000, who asked to remain unidentified. ''We have tried to look at the problem of the displaced population over a long period of time. We feel that the displaced people must somehow be reintegrated into the society.''

The plan calls for the construction of clusters of inexpensive homes built with indigenous materials. Each house has an estimated cost of $500.

''The idea is to first help people receive a home of their own,'' says a designer of the program, ''and to then provide support as they try to find work and reintegrate themselves into the economy. We would provide food to these people at the beginning with the eventual goal being self-sufficiency.''

The plan is called Project 1,000 because the estimated 500,000 displaced Salvadoreans ''represent approximately 1,000 of the poorest communities,'' according to the report outlining the project, a copy of which was obtained by the Monitor. After the plan's start-up costs, the Salvadoreans intend to keep the project going with funds from current AID programs, totaling some $300 million, as well as some $30 million in slated technical assistance programs provided by the UNDP, the International Committee for the Red Cross, and other smaller relief organizations.

''El Salvador operates with a $400 million deficit,'' says a Project 1,000 planner, and ''there are no government resources upon which to draw for these people. There must be international support. Without outside assistance for this program El Salvador will be headed for total disaster. We now have one-tenth of the population living in these conditions.''

The designers of the program envision heavy input from relief organizations such as Project Hope and possibly CARE, neither of which has any current projects in El Salvador. Project Hope set up temporary offices in the US Embassy a few weeks ago. Project 1,000 would be coordinated by CONARA and CONADES.

Officials close to the International Committee for the Red Cross say that organization will not participate in the relocation program. And several other private relief groups approached by US and Salvadorean officials to participate in the program have refused to play any role.

Project Hope is scheduled to receive some $6 million from AID to administer health programs here for displaced people over the next three years. Project Hope administrators refused to answer repeated requests for an interview.

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