Tired of war and unfulfilled promises of peace, Salvadorans on Wednesday greeted the announcement of a United Nations-brokered cease-fire to end 12 years of civil war with cautious expressions of hope and customary skepticism.
In the streets and on radio talk shows, Salvadorans said they are confused about the accord for a Feb. 1 cease-fire that was hammered out before midnight on New Year's Eve by U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar during his final minutes in the international post.
Neither the U.S.-backed government nor leftist rebels offered the public the details of their agreement that is to be signed in Mexico on Jan. 16.
"They say there's going to be peace," said Maria Agueda, 48, who was uprooted from her rural home by combat and forced to move to the city. "What they say sounds good, but we have to see what they do."
"For so many years they have been saying peace, peace," added Israel Guzman, 24, a baker. "No one is going to believe it until we see it."
The settlement, said to cover 80 pages, was the culmination of 20 months of U.N.-sponsored negotiations and Perez de Cuellar's final triumph before stepping down after a decade as secretary general.
Both sides said they reached agreement on the major issues that had been outstanding since President Alfredo Cristiani and commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front signed a general accord to integrate the rebels into civilian life last September.
The two sides had to negotiate four major issues: reducing the 55,000-member armed forces; guerrilla participation in a new civilian police force to replace the current, militarized police forces; economic questions, such as distribution of land in guerrilla-held zones, and logistics and security guarantees for integrating the rebels into civilian life.
The two sides still must work out a timetable for implementing the accord.
Upon returning to El Salvador from New York, Cristiani said: "This is the final peace. . . . These agreements are very just and will bring many benefits to our country."
Rebel leader Schafik Handal said on Salvadoran radio that the accord signals "a great change in the political system of this country," but he warned that the pact will be only as good as the two sides' compliance.
Ruben Zamora, vice president of the National Assembly and a onetime ally of the guerrillas, hailed the agreement as the beginning of a new era in El Salvador's bloody history, saying: "The ship is in port and just has to dock. If the accords are fulfilled, they will change Salvadoran politics. You are going to be able to talk about El Salvador before the negotiations and El Salvador after the negotiations."
Describing the last 60 years as an era dominated by the military, Zamora said that "the new framework will be one in which the military does not determine politics, but civilians and political parties do."
Asked if the gains are sufficient to justify 12 years of war, he said: "The question is whether, objectively, there was any other way to achieve this, and I would say no. We tried other forms and failed."
Salvadoran Cease-Fire Agreement
Here are the main points of the agreement announced early Wednesday to end El Salvador's 12- year civil war:
TIMING: Feb. 1 will mark the end of "armed confrontation." The parties will meet in Mexico on Monday to negotiate other dates for compliance with the accord. The negotiations must produce positive results no later than Jan. 10. If not, the parties must present outstanding matters to the U.N. secretary general no later than Jan. 14. The final pact will be signed in Mexico City on Jan. 16.
WHO SIGNED: Seven members of the Salvadoran government and six members of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Also signing was Alvaro de Soto, representative of former U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
STILL TO BE NEGOTIATED: The means of breaking up the military structure of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and reincorporating its members into the "political and institutional life of the country." Negotiators said the final pact will include a reduction in the military and the creation of a civilian police force.