As the United Nations today formally closed its Guatemala mission - which for the past decade has been keeping watch on the peace process - United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed its accomplishments as a model to be emulated elsewhere.
"The UN Verification Mission (MINUGUA) stands as a successful example of peace-building, with valuable lessons for operations in other parts of the world," Mr. Annan said in a message delivered by Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast to a ceremony in Guatemala City.
The UN achieved many "firsts" in Central America, he pointed out, including expanding traditional peace-keeping to encompass the protection of human rights and in the pioneering work carried out by truth commissions.
He said that Guatemalans should be proud of what they have accomplished in recent years, having made "enormous progress" in managing the country's problems through dialogue and institutions. While hailing progress achieved since the parties finished signing a set of accords in 1996, Mr. Annan warned that "serious problems" still plague Guatemalan society.
"There are wide-ranging social inequalities. Too many people fear for their safety and security. Discrimination across ethnic, cultural and linguistic lines remains disturbingly prevalent. And Guatemala has fallen short of its obligations to pay reparations to war victims and to substantially increase tax revenues to pay for much-needed social investments,"
The closure of the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) should be seen "as the beginning of a new and necessary phase" where the country's people take charge of promoting peace, the Secretary-General said.
The UN, through its agencies, will remain engaged in the quest to strengthen the rule of law in Guatemala and guarantee human rights, "but henceforth, the major protagonists in this story will be the Guatemalans themselves."
Although MINUGUA has finished its work, Mr. Annan emphasized that "the United Nations remains firmly committed to peace and development in Guatemala."
The UN mission has been in Guatemala since November 1994, when it was deployed to monitor a human rights accord which later formed part of the comprehensive peace agreement signed in 1996.