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Good borders make good neighbors?

Now for the real work, as Peru and Ecuador mark the end of longfrontier conflict.

The presidents of Peru and Ecuador met in a clearing hacked from the Amazon jungle to inaugurate the first concrete markers defining their nations' now peaceful common border.

After that moment of high drama in January, the placing of 23 more markers is expected to be completed next month - the final demarcation of a previously unmarked section of frontier after a half-century dispute and two armed conflicts in the past 20 years.

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This will be the culmination of more than three years of intense diplomatic talks that led up to the signing of a peace accord in Brazil in October.

Now the real work begins.

The first step is demilitarization. Ecuador plans total demilitarization of its border with Peru, while Peru is drastically reducing forces, according to officials at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in Peru.

Then comes the delicate but urgent task of removing land mines sowed on the border over years of conflict. This process is under way with help from the US, Spain, and Canada. Once the border is a safe place to be and to work, the nations can start implementing programs designed to stimulate integration and development.

"The idea of the accord is to convert the border into a point of encounter not a point of division," says Drago Kisic, who headed the border integration committee during the negotiations.

To facilitate this change, the governments have announced there will be free transit at official border checkpoints. As part of the October peace accord, Ecuador and Peru agreed to end restrictions on nearly all products traded between the countries by 2001, opening the way for free trade between the nations.

"The border was an area that had been unattended by both countries in terms of development. Because they were conflictive zones the governments put more military attention than development attention into these areas," says Mr. Kisic.

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His committee created a binational border development plan, which carries a $3 billion price tag to fund big projects, such as road construction, in addition to small-scale ones in fields such as health, education, and sanitation. So far, major multinational lending institutions have said they could make $1 billion available in loans, while the US has agreed to donate $42 million. Leaders are working on getting $22 million from Canada, and they haven't even gone knocking on doors in Japan or Europe yet. They are also hoping to attract $800 million in private investment.

AT THE same time, indigenous groups and local chambers of commerce are organizing to try to be heard when decisions are made as to what kinds of projects are implemented.

Not all are convinced they will see these so-called benefits of the peace.

Just days before the accord was to be signed, the jungle city of Iquitos in the region of Loreto was convulsed by riots in protest against the accord.

Many officials in Lima play down the reaction of people in Iquitos. But an organization called the Patriotic Front of Loreto is getting ready to play hardball. Its members disagree with the part of the accord that gives Ecuador navigation rights in the Amazon region and the right to two free-trade commercialization zones in Peru.

"They have offered us a few little things here and there, some money, some buildings to sweeten us up so that we accept the accord," says Jos Varletti, an official in the Patriotic Front of Loreto. "But our fatherland cannot be bought."

Meanwhile, one group of border dwellers has already felt some pretty immediate benefits. They are indigenous Jivaros, who once traveled freely across the border, traded with each other, and lived as one large extended community.

"Before the conflict we didn't have borders," says Bryce Prez, a Jivaro who works for an indigenous organization in Lima. "We had exchange and barter - we gave them salt, they gave us pig meat."

Then family members were out of contact for 56 years. Since the accord they have had two reunions, with long-separated family members rekindling relationships and younger generations forming new ones.

These groups plan to maintain strong ties in this era of peace. They also plan to revive cultural and commercial exchanges. By taking their own initiative to revive centuries-old connections, the Jivaros may very well serve as a model for the future.


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