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Salvador: Success Flows From `Thirst for Peace'

SECRETARY-GENERAL Boutros Boutros-Ghali has called the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL) ``a prime example of the need for a fully integrated approach to peace-building.'' It ranks as one of the most successful UN peacekeeping programs.

It was UN-mediated talks that brought an official end to the country's 12-year civil war in January 1992. The peace pact, dubbed a ``negotiated revolution,'' called for sweeping military, judicial, electoral, and constitutional reforms. But the UN didn't walk away after the pact was signed. It stayed not only to verify compliance but also to ``facilitate the consolidation of peace, democracy, and justice.''

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For the first time ever, the UN set up human rights offices in a country six months before a cease-fire was established. The UN remains deeply involved, with its members wearing the cascos azules (blue helmets) as mediators, cops, human rights monitors, and economic advisers. The UN brought in over 600 civilian police from various countries to keep a watchful eye on the military-trained Salvadoran National police while a new, civilian police force was being trained at a new police academy. By July 1994, there should be 3,500-5,000 new officers in place.

On Sept. 13, the UN began a new role, establishing an electoral division of 37 specialists to oversee preparations for the March 1994 presidential elections. Voter registration has been slow, but at UN urging the Salvadoran government is implementing a plan to speed up the process with an emphasis on reaching women and rural voters. On election day, the UN will have 800 observers (two per voting booth) in the country.

The cease-fire has been ``impeccably observed,'' the UN says.

But there have been hitches. Army officers accused of human rights abuses and corruption refused to step down for eight months. The rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front failed to declare and destroy all of their weapons. Human rights violations continue, albeit far fewer than during the war. Creation of the new civilian police force - a crucial element in demilitarizing society - was delayed. And distribution of land to former combatants as stipulated in the accords has fallen well behind schedule. The UN attributes the delays to a shortfall in international aid.

Given the uncertain chemistry of peacekeeping, the Salvadoran formula has worked remarkably well. ONUSAL officials say a critical element has been the public demand that feuding factions put the past behind them. When necessary, UN officials have waded in and acted as ``catalyzers'' to break an impasse. But primarily, says ONUSAL spokesman Jorge Ulate-Segura, the mission's success is due to Salvadorans' own ``thirst for peace.''

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