Thirty-six years of internal conflict in Guatemala came to an end on 29 December 1996 when the Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) signed the Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace. The Agreement brought into effect a number of previous agreements negotiated over a period of six years under United Nations auspices. One of those, the 1994 Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights, was already being verified by the United Nations. At the request of the parties, and without awaiting a ceasefire and the conclusion of the negotiating process, the United Nations General Assembly (A/RES/48/267), on 19 September 1994, had established the United Nations Mission for the Verification of Human Rights and of Compliance with the Commitments of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights in Guatemala (MINUGUA) (LINK to their own website).
MINUGUA carried out verification and institution-building activities throughout the country. More than 250 human rights monitors, legal experts, indigenous specialists and police were posted throughout Guatemala, including in its remotest areas. Their presence and verification activities have focused public attention on human rights and the related problem of impunity, reinforcing the declining trend in political violence.
Once the Agreement on the Definitive Ceasefire was signed on 4 December 1996 at Oslo, the Security Council, by its resolution 1094 (1997) of 20 January 1997, decided to attach to MINUGUA a group of 155 military observers and requisite medical personnel for a three-month period. Although the expanded mission continued to be known as MINUGUA, its official name was changed to the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala in order to reflect the new mandate. The functions of the observer group were to verify compliance by the Government of Guatemala and URNG with the Agreement on the Definitive Ceasefire, including the formal cessation of hostilities, the separation and concentration of the respective forces and disarmament and demobilization of former URNG combatants.
The Agreement provided for the formal ceasefire to enter into force as of 00:00 hours on D-day, on which date the United Nations military observer group as the verification authority was ready to assume its responsibilities. On 13 February 1997, the Secretary-General informed the Security Council that the operation it had mandated could begin on 3 March 1997, following completion of the preparatory work for the deployment of the group and the establishment of the URNG assembly points. Until then, the parties maintained the informal ceasefire that they had observed since 19 March 1996. On day D-15 (16 February 1997), URNG provided information on 3,570 personnel to be demobilized. It also provided an inventory of the weapons, explosives and mines in its possession and information on the location of remaining minefields. The Guatemalan Army, for its part, provided the requisite list of units that were to be redeployed to their bases. On D-10 (21 February 1997), members of the military observer group were deployed to the six verification centres (Finca Sacol, Finca Claudia, Finca Las Abejas, Tululché, Tzalbal and Mayalán) responsible for monitoring the eight URNG assembly points. In addition, two sector headquarters and a main headquarters were set up to provide command and control.
The United Nations observer group became fully operational on 3 March 1997 and, on that date the formal ceasefire entered into force. The separation of forces between the Guatemalan Army and URNG was carried out through the establishment of two concentric areas, security zones and coordination zones, around each URNG assembly point. Army units were not permitted to enter the security zone and police units could only do so after coordinating their movements with the MINUGUA observer group. As former combatants concentrated in the assembly points, their weapons, munitions, explosives, mines and related military equipment were registered and handed over to United Nations military observers for storage.
Although demining was not foreseen in the Agreement, URNG helped to identify and clear all its minefields, in particular that located on the Tajumulco Volcan. By 18 April 1997, 378 mines and explosive devices had been lifted and destroyed.
In all, 2,928 URNG combatants were demobilized and issued temporary identification cards, and 535,102 weapons and rounds of ammunition were handed over to the MINUGUA. Identification cards were also issued to other URNG not required to be concentrated. Still other eligible URNG members were documented by MINUGUA personnel following the repatriation of the military observer group. On 14 May 1997, URNG weapons, munitions and equipment, as well as the lists of destroyed explosive devices, were delivered to the Ministry of the Interior. The corresponding handover certificate was signed by the Government and by the MINUGUA Chief Military Observer. This last act signalled the completion of the mandate of the military observer group.
Following the repatriation of the MINUGUA military observers, MINUGUA has continued its other verification and institution-building activities in support of the peace process in Guatemala, and its mandate has been regularly renewed by the General Assembly.
Reporting (S/1997/432) to the Security Council on 4 June 1997 on the activities of the Military Observer Group/MINUGUA, the Secretary-General noted that the exemplary manner in which the Agreement on the Definitive Ceasefire had been implemented was “above all a testimony to the determination of both the Government of Guatemala and URNG to put an end to the bitter armed conflict between them”. The mutual confidence gained in the joint implementation of the ceasefire was an important political capital that both parties could draw on as they faced the challenges of reintegration and the task of implementing the other peace accords. The United Nations should remain committed to assisting them and Guatemalan society as a whole, as it did during the negotiations and the initial stage of the implementation phase of the peace process, he said.
The Secretary-General continued by saying that credit for the success achieved in the ceasefire process was also due to the international community which showed its own determination to put its resources and experience at the service of the demobilization of URNG combatants. He acknowledged in particular the role of the European Union, USAID, OAS and the United Nations programmes and agencies that took the lead in providing logistical and other support to the demobilization process, as well as that of the many Governments that contributed to this concerted effort.
Secretary-General paid tribute to all the military and civilian personnel
who served with distinction in the United Nations military observer group
“for the successful completion of their tasks and the significant
contribution they have made to the Guatemalan peace process”.
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