Peru and Ecuador signed an accord Friday that formally ends their 3-week-old border conflict, a first step in a complicated and still potentially divisive negotiation over rights to a remote stretch of territory near a disputed headwater of the Amazon River.
Under the agreement--signed early Friday morning after often-strained negotiations in Brasilia, the Brazilian capital--both countries agreed to gradually withdraw from the contested area, create a demilitarized zone and allow observers from four nations that helped mediate the peace accord to act as monitors.
Although the signing ends a conflict that has claimed at least 49 lives on both sides and perhaps many more, the agreement is ambiguous in key areas and does not address the central issue in the dispute.
Peru and Ecuador did not yield in their respective claims that their forces were occupying sovereign territory, and the accord says the armies are moving to positions solely to demilitarize the zone and not as a precursor to defining a new border.
So ambiguous is the pact that there are still negotiations on what kind of observers will be deployed, military or otherwise, and even on when the two armies will move to the agreed-upon positions.
Complicating the mediation was the fact that the stakes in the conflict were raised by both presidents--Peru's Alberto Fujimori and Ecuador's Sixto Duran Ballen--who insisted many times over that their armies would not retreat.
Friday, in the wake of the accord, most politicians welcomed the end to the hostilities, although a few in both countries challenged it.
In Ecuador, former President Rodrigo Borja was quoted by news reports as saying the peace agreement was "not acceptable" because Ecuador had been forced to retreat.
Borja was in office when the last skirmish occurred in 1991, and he argued that moving out of three areas "signified a step back."
In Peru, some opposition politicians also objected because the agreement forces their army to move back to one of its principal bases, about one or two miles from what they define as the border.
"The big question now is, why did we fight this battle?" Julio Diaz Palacios, a candidate for Congress, asked in a radio interview here.