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Guatemalan president promises constitutional reforms on 10th anniversary of peace accords

Guatemalan president promises constitutional reforms on 10th anniversary of peace accords

President Oscar Berger on Friday promised to revive constitutional reforms to help Guatemala's poor heavily Indian population as the nation prepared to mark the 10th anniversary of peace accords that ended a 36-year civil war.
Berger said he will send Congress a bill on Jan. 13 with measures that include granting official recognition to Mayan languages, strengthening the justice system, allowing a civilian defense minister and ending the army's role in policing.
"We need to construct a more just, united and tolerant society," Berger said. "A society as unequal as ours demands it."
The measures had originally been promised in a United Nations-brokered peace accord signed on Dec. 31, 1996.
The accord ended Latin America's bloodiest conflict of the 20th century in which U.S.-backed military and civilian governments destroyed entire villages as they stamped out leftist guerrillas. About 200,000 people died or vanished.
The constitutional reforms were designed to end the inequality and racism that were the root causes of the conflict.
However, when lawmakers finally drafted the reforms in 1998 they mixed in measures that critics said were designed to benefit the political elite and in 1999 they were rejected in a referendum.
Berger said Friday that without the reforms there is danger of a resurgence of violence.
"We are going to return to the issues that are necessary like indigenous rights," he said.
Guatemala is one of the most heavily Indian nations in Latin America and most of the victims of the civil war were ethnic Mayans.
At dawn Friday, Mayan priests and princesses lit fires and chanted prayers to commemorate the peace accords at the archaeological ruins of Kaminal Juyu in the capital of Guatemala City.
The Central American nation is also one of the poorest in the region.
According to U.N. statistics, 21 percent of Guatemalans in 2005 were living on less than one dollar a day, the measure the organization uses to define extreme poverty. In 2000, 16 percent were living in extreme poverty.
Guatemala has made some advances since the war, reducing the size of the army _ blamed for most of the human rights abuses during the conflict _ to 15,500 men from 45,000, and allowing ex-guerrillas who had fought in the war for a Marxist government to form a political party.
But Guatemala now faces the new challenges of gang violence and organized crime, which combined led to 5,000 deaths in 2005.
A study by the Inter-American Development Bank ranked Guatemala as one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere.
"Many of us idealized the signing of the peace accords and we thought that everything would be resolved," said Virginia Castro, an ex-guerrilla fighter who was awarded 270 hectares (665 acres) of land to share with 81 families. But after nine Christmases we see the harsh reality."


Updated : 2021-06-19 14:02 GMT+08:00