El Salvador Cease-Fire Is Approved : Civil war: Accord between government and rebels will end 12 years of bloodshed. It is to take effect Feb. 1. Perez de Cuellar played key role.


In a tribute to the persistence and diplomatic skills of retiring U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani and rebel commanders reached agreement before midnight New Year’s Eve on a cease-fire designed to end the country’s 12-year civil war.

The agreement on the cease-fire, which will take effect on Feb. 1, came just before Perez de Cuellar officially left the international post that he has held for two five-year terms. Perez de Cuellar and his aide, Alvaro de Soto, have been trying to mediate a settlement in the conflict for almost two years.

“I feel very proud, not just of myself but also of my colleagues and friends who participated in the Salvadoran negotiating effort,” the 71-year-old secretary general said.


Although agreement was reached, there was no formal signing of the cease-fire. The United Nations said in a statement that both sides would meet in Mexico on Jan. 16 to sign a final peace.

The settlement reportedly calls for a several-month-long cease-fire during which guerrillas of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front would retreat to U.N.-run enclaves.

The process would end with the rebels being disarmed and returning to civilian life. The agreement contains guarantees for the rebels as well as providing for U.N. supervision of the peace process.

Word of the agreement reached reporters from Bernard Aronson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs. “To the Salvadoran people,” the American diplomat said, “it’s the best New Year’s present they could have.”

He said that mediators for both sides in the civil war that has cost 75,000 lives worked until midnight to settle disputes.

“The only thing remaining is the technical details. All substantive details were settled,” he said.


“Both sides know that the war is over.”

Cristiani, speaking on radio to his compatriots after the agreement was reached, said that “the big winner is the Salvadoran people.”

When the two sides began what was painted as the final round of negotiations two weeks ago, the main issues involved the size of the reduction of the Salvadoran army; control of a new, demilitarized police force; demobilization of the rebel forces under U.N. supervision, and a system of land reform.

During his radio talk, Cristiani declined to say how much the army will be reduced in size. On the new police force, he said that there would be no quota system for rebels wishing to join, though they would be free to apply to a new police academy, he said.

It was almost symbolic that first word on the agreement should come from an American official, for the U.S. government has played a heavy hand in the conflict and in its resolution. Throughout the war, the United States was a firm backer of the Salvadoran military in its campaign to put down the rebels, and American officials evidently had a significant role in the negotiations.

Moreover, the United States is expected to take part in financing the reconstruction of the ravaged Central American country of 5 million people.

Perez de Cuellar, who will be replaced by Egyptian diplomat Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had postponed his departure for a vacation to the Bahamas earlier in the evening, hoping that an agreement would be reached.


“I think it is my duty to stay as long as I see my presence is of some use,” he told staff members who had gathered at the United Nations to bid him farewell. “I cannot leave right now.”

Although word of an imminent settlement had reached the capital San Salvador earlier Tuesday, most people there seemed skeptical, paying more attention to their family gatherings and New Year’s fireworks than radio and television.

“If it’s God’s will, there will be peace,” said 39-year-old Katarina Hernandez. “If not, there’s nothing we can do.”

After the agreement was reached, though, Juan Antonio Carrillo, a 54-year-old engineer, said, “I hope this means everything I want it to mean, that these 11 years of war leave something (positive) behind--a civilian police, a real president of the republic and a redefinition of the military.”

Government and rebel negotiators, who had reached agreement on the general outlines of a settlement in negotiations earlier in the year, seemed to make no headway on the details until Cristiani showed up for the talks Sunday at Perez de Cuellar’s request.

The secretary general, who is Peruvian, had not hidden his special desire to have a hand in mediating the end of one of the most enervating and depressing conflicts in Latin American history.


If the talks failed, Perez de Cuellar had told reporters, “For me it would be a disappointment, obviously, because logically I am a Latin American and I have wanted to have a lasting result in this affair before I leave office, and it is a race against time.”

The cease-fire crowned an extraordinary period for the office of the secretary general. Perez de Cuellar had often been derided as an old-fashioned, cautious diplomat too inward and inarticulate to create a dynamic image for the United Nations. Moreover, critics have often lamented his failure to reduce the size of the bloated U.N. bureaucracy and make it more manageable.

But, in his quiet and methodical way, the secretary general has managed to take advantage of the thaw in the Cold War to amass a notable record of recent achievements. In November, for example, he and his aide, Giandomenico Picco, negotiated freedom for the last of the Western hostages held by Muslim extremists in Beirut. And he has initiated a host of peacekeeping operations during his reign, more than the United Nations mounted in all its history before. In the most notable, United Nations peacekeepers are managing troubled Cambodia as if the United Nations were a colonial power.