one of its most complex and successful interventions, the United Nations
became directly involved in peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts in Central
America in 1989, when the Governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras and Nicaragua requested its assistance in the implementation
of their collective agreement – the AProcedure for the Establishment
of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Central America, known both as the Esquipulas
II Agreement and the Guatemala Procedure.
A complex and difficult process of negotiations, beginning in 1983, has reversed the disrupting cycle of turmoil which engulfed Central America for many years. At its various stages, the process involved countries from inside and outside the region, as well as the opposing parties within several of the Central American countries. These initiatives were actively supported and facilitated by the United Nations. As a result of the negotiations and the agreements reached, the United Nations was requested to establish a number of mechanisms for observing and verifying commitments. These included the United Nations Observer Group in Central America (ONUCA), the United Nations Observer Mission to verify the electoral process in Nicaragua (ONUVEN), the International Support and Verification Commission (CIAV), the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL), the United Nations Mission in El Salvador (MINUSAL) and the United Nations Mission for the Verification of Human Rights in Guatemala (MINUGUA).
ONUCA was established by the Security Council on 7 November 1989. The Group's mandate was set out by the Secretary-General in his report to the Council of 11 October 1989. ONUCA would conduct on-site verification of compliance by the Governments of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua with their security undertakings contained in the Esquipulas II Agreement, namely (a) the cessation of aid to irregular forces and insurrectionist movements, and (b) the non-use of the territory of one State for attacks on other States. The latter undertaking was to include preventing the establishment or use of facilities for radio or television transmissions for the specific purpose of directing or assisting the military operations of irregular forces or insurrectionist movements in any of the five countries.
Because the nature of the terrain in the region would have limited the efficacy of static observation posts, it was judged that the best results would be achieved by establishing mobile teams of at least seven military observers, who would carry out regular patrols by road vehicles with cross-country capability, by helicopter and, in the Gulf of Fonseca and certain other coastal areas and rivers, by patrol boats and light speedboats. A small fixed-wing aircraft would be required to transport the Chief Military Observer (CMO) and his senior staff between the capitals of the five countries and to rotate military observers from one duty station to another. Command of ONUCA in the field would be exercised by the CMO, who would be under the command of the United Nations, vested in the Secretary-General, under the authority of the Security Council. 260 unarmed military observers would be provided by Member States.
In resolution 644 (1989) of 7 November 1989, the Security Council approved the Secretary-General's report and decided to set up ONUCA immediately for a period of six months.
On 3 December 1989, an advance party led by the CMO and consisting of approximately 30 military officers and United Nations civilian officials established the Group's headquarters in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The team made visits to the five countries of the region to set up liaison offices in each capital and make the necessary preparations for the subsequent establishment of verification centres there and elsewhere. In the light of the prevailing security conditions, the El Salvador liaison office could not be established in San Salvador until 17 January 1990. ONUCA reached its full strength on 5 June 1990, at which time, in addition to the liaison offices in the five capitals, it was manning 14 verification centres, five of them in the capitals, and 3 operational posts. In June 1990, four fast patrol boats joined the mission and began operating from a naval verification centre at San Lorenzo, Honduras.
ONUCA operations involved mobile teams of military observers patrolling from verification centres, each manned by up to 10 observers, and smaller operational posts in forward areas. Patrols were carried out daily by land, by air and occasionally by river, covering terrain that was mostly rugged and densely forested, with limited access by road. Under such conditions, helicopters proved indispensable for observation purposes and for transporting observers and supplies. ONUCA monitoring concentrated in those areas where activities contrary to the security undertakings in the Esquipulas II Agreement were alleged to occur, mostly in the areas adjacent to the borders between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, between Honduras and Nicaragua, between Honduras and El Salvador and between Guatemala and El Salvador, together with the north-eastern part of Nicaragua and the south-western part of Honduras. When a complaint was registered with ONUCA, the practice was to communicate it to the Government complained against, which was asked to extend to ONUCA full cooperation in an investigation. The results of the investigation were then transmitted to both Governments concerned. ONUCA received relatively few complaints in that process.
On 12 December 1989, the five Central American Presidents issued the ADeclaration of San Isidro de Coronado in which, inter alia, they requested that ONUCA's mandate be expanded to include verification of any cessation of hostilities and demobilization of irregular forces that might be agreed upon in the region.
On 15 March, soon after the elections in Nicaragua, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council that, in consultations between the Nicaraguan Government, the Government-elect and the United Nations, agreement had been reached in principle on modalities for the demobilization of the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance. Those in Honduras would be demobilized at their existing camps and then repatriated without delay. For those in Nicaragua at the time of demobilization, ONUCA would establish temporary assembly points where they would be demobilized and where ONUCA would ensure their security pending their resettlement, which was to be arranged by the International Support and Verification Commission without delay. ONUCA would be responsible for taking delivery of their weapons, matériel and military equipment, including military uniforms. Armed personnel would be required for these tasks. The Secretary-General accordingly asked the Security Council, on a contingency basis, to enlarge ONUCA's mandate for this purpose and to authorize the addition of armed personnel to its strength. No additional troops would be deployed until agreement existed among all concerned on the voluntary demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance.
In resolution 650 (1990) of 27 March 1990, the Security Council approved the Secretary-General's report and decided to authorize, on a contingency basis in accordance with the report, an enlargement of the mandate of ONUCA and the addition of armed personnel to its strength in order to enable it to play a part in the voluntary demobilization of the Nicaraguan Resistance. The Council requested the Secretary-General to keep it fully informed of further developments regarding the implementation of the resolution.
On 2B3 April 1990, the five Central American Presidents agreed to the Secretary-General's proposal that the weapons and other equipment received from the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance should be destroyed in situ by ONUCA.
The first company of an armed infantry battalion, contributed by Venezuela, was accordingly deployed to Honduras on 10 April 1990, after agreement had been reached on the demobilization of the two principal groups of the Nicaraguan Resistance remaining in that country. On 16 April 1990, it demobilized 260 members of the Atlantic Front (Yatama) of the Nicaraguan Resistance at La Kiatara in eastern Honduras and destroyed their weapons and military equipment. On 18 April, at the main Nicaraguan Resistance camp at Yamales in Honduras, large quantities of weapons, most of them obsolete and unserviceable, were handed over to ONUCA for destruction. But no personnel were demobilized on this occasion as all active combatants previously located at Yamales had apparently returned to Nicaragua.
Before the transfer of political power in Nicaragua on 25 April 1990, intensive negotiations took place between the Nicaraguan Government, representatives of the President-elect and representatives of the Northern, Central and Atlantic Fronts of the Nicaraguan Resistance, with the participation of the Archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Obando y Bravo. The CMO of ONUCA and Mr. Iqbal Riza, the Secretary-General's Alternate Personal Representative for the Central American peace process, also took part.
On the night of 18B19 April, the Nicaraguan parties signed a complex of agreements relating to the voluntary demobilization of the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance in Nicaragua during the period from 25 April to 10 June 1990. A ceasefire would come into effect at 12 noon local time on 19 April and a separation of forces would take place as a result of the withdrawal of the Nicaraguan Government's forces from certain Asecurity zones which were to be established in Nicaragua and in which the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance would concentrate for the purposes of demobilization. ONUCA was asked to monitor both the ceasefire and the separation of forces.
On the basis of these agreements, the Secretary-General sought the Security Council's approval of a further expansion of ONUCA's mandate to cover these functions. That approval was granted by resolution 653 (1990) of 20 April 1990.
By resolution 654 (1990) of 4 May 1990 the Security Council decided to extend the mandate of ONUCA, as defined in resolutions 644 (1989), 650 (1990) and 653 (1990), for a further period of six months, on the understanding that the additional tasks of monitoring the ceasefire and separation of forces and demobilizing the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance would lapse not later than 10 June 1990.
Five Asecurity zones were established on 22 April following the withdrawal of the Nicaraguan Government's forces from the areas in question during the preceding three days. Within each zone, ONUCA personnel C both unarmed observers and armed members of the Venezuelan battalion C were deployed in a Ademobilization and logistics support area where the hand-over of weapons and other activities connected with the demobilization of the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance took place. Each zone was 500B600 square kilometres in area and was surrounded by a demilitarized zone of some 20 kilometres in width. Two additional zones were subsequently established on the Atlantic Coast for the demobilization of the members of the AYatama front. These zones covered a total of 2,550 square kilometres.
Although all the necessary arrangements had been made by ONUCA, in coordination with leaders of the Nicaraguan Resistance, for demobilization to begin on 25 April at El Amparo in Zone 1, the members of the Resistance who had assembled there declined to lay down their weapons after their commander told them that the minimum conditions for demobilization had not been met. In the ensuing days, only a few members of the Resistance demobilized.
On 4 May 1990, after further consultations, the Nicaraguan Government and the leadership of the Nicaraguan Resistance issued the AManagua Declaration, in which, inter alia, the Nicaraguan Resistance declared that it would continue its voluntary demobilization and that the process would be completed in all the Asecurity zones by 10 June at the latest. Demobilization began on 8 May. But during the next two weeks only small numbers came forward for demobilization, and it soon became clear that the pace was insufficient to ensure completion by 10 June. The leaders of the Nicaraguan Resistance complained of breaches by the Nicaraguan Army of the agreements relating to the ceasefire and separation of forces.
On 22 and 23 May 1990, the Security Council met to discuss this grave situation, and on 23 May the President of the Security Council made a statement expressing the Council's concern at the slow pace of demobilization.
ONUCA, meanwhile, investigated complaints from both sides relating, on the one hand, to the presence of armed civilians and militia personnel in the Asecurity zones and demilitarized zones, and, on the other, to the presence outside the Asecurity zones of armed members of the Nicaraguan Resistance, some of whom had allegedly committed various criminal acts. However, it remained the Secretary-General's assessment that there had been no serious violations of the ceasefire.
This serious situation was resolved on 30 May when a meeting between President Violeta Chamorro of Nicaragua, the leaders of the Nicaraguan Resistance and the Archbishop of Managua resulted in an agreement entitled the AManagua Protocol. Under its terms, the Nicaraguan Government responded to a number of the Resistance's publicly stated concerns, notably through the establishment of Adevelopment areas in which demobilized members of the Resistance would be resettled. The Resistance reaffirmed its commitment to demobilize by 10 June 1990 at the latest and, to this end, undertook that at least 100 combatants would be demobilized each day in each of the Asecurity zones.
After 30 May, demobilization generally proceeded rapidly. On 8 June the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council that there had been a marked increase in the rate at which the members of the ANorthern Front and ACentral Front were being demobilized. However, demobilization of the AAtlantic Front, which had begun on 21 May, was proceeding at a less satisfactory pace than that of the main group, largely because of logistic difficulties in concentrating the members at demobilization areas in the large security zones concerned.
In light of the progress of the demobilization, the Secretary-General recommended that the Security Council extend the relevant part of ONUCA's mandate for a brief and clearly defined period. By resolution 656 (1990) of 8 June 1990, the Council accordingly decided that ONUCA's tasks of monitoring the ceasefire and separation of forces in Nicaragua and demobilizing the Resistance should be extended, on the understanding, as recommended by the Secretary-General, that these tasks would lapse with the completion of the demobilization process not later than 29 June 1990.
During the following three weeks, demobilization proceeded in all zones. The process reached a peak on 10 June, when 1,886 members of the Nicaraguan Resistance were demobilized. On 18 June, an eighth Asecurity zone became operational to facilitate the demobilization of members of the ASouthern Front.
On 29 June 1990, the Secretary-General informed the Security Council that at 1900 hours local time on 28 June 1990, demobilization of all armed and unarmed members of the Nicaraguan Resistance had been completed at all locations, except for one in Nicaragua where a handful of members remained to be demobilized. This was soon accomplished, and the final zone was closed on 5 July 1990.
By the time the process was completed, a total of 19,614 armed and unarmed members of the Nicaraguan Resistance had been demobilized in Nicaragua and 2,759 in Honduras. Weapons handed over to ONUCA by members of the Nicaraguan Resistance included 15,144 small arms (including AK 47s, other assault rifles, rifles and light machine-guns), as well as heavy machine-guns, mortars, grenade launchers, grenades, mines and missiles.
The early part of the mandate period, dominated by ONUCA's role in the demobilization of the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance, was thus ending. The Secretary-General reported that ONUCA observers in the five countries had then reverted to their original mandate, which required patrolling of areas where violations of the Esquipulas II security undertakings seemed most likely to occur. ONUCA maintained a regular and visible presence in those areas. ONUCA's role was thus one of verification; it did not have the authority or the capacity to prevent by physical means either the movement of armed persons or warlike material across borders or other violations of the undertakings. Nor was it staffed or equipped for the detection of clandestine activities.
Responding to a request from the five Central American Governments, the Secretary-General recommended to the Security Council on 26 October 1990 that ONUCA should continue its operations for a further period of six months, until 7 May 1991. He also recommended a reduction of ONUCA's strength, which as of October was 254 military observers. Liaison offices and verification centres in each of the five capitals would be merged to form in each case an Observer Group headquarters, and the number of verification centres would also be reduced. The Security Council approved the Secretary-General's report in its resolution 675 (1990) of 5 November 1990.
A further extension of ONUCA's mandate, until 7 November 1991, was approved by the Council in its resolution 691 (1991) of 6 May 1991. In recommending that extension to the Council, the Secretary-General had also recommended a further reduction in ONUCA's strength, which in April 1991 stood at 158 military observers. Based on a study into the cost-effectiveness of the Group's methods of operations, it had been determined that, while ONUCA should continue to maintain its regular and visible presence, emphasis of that presence in the border areas should be more directly focused on liaison and the exchange of information with the security authorities of the States concerned. In the ensuing months, ONUCA intensified those activities.
On 28 October 1991, the Secretary-General informed the Security Council that the situation in the region had continued to improve. The five Governments were making efforts to arrive at new collective security arrangements for the region. Furthermore, A[t]hose Powers that were earlier actively supporting opposing sides in Central America appear to be disengaging themselves and have publicly announced their intention to revise their policies vis-à-vis Central America, emphasizing their support for negotiated political solutions to conflicts and assistance for economic and social development rather than military purposes. The five countries also continued their efforts to honour their commitments under the Esquipulas II Agreement. Although violations continued to occur, they were increasingly linked to criminal activity for pecuniary rather than political motives. At the same time, there was no evidence to indicate that the irregular armed groups that had re-emerged in Nicaragua were being helped from abroad. In relation to the conflict in El Salvador, ONUCA had confirmed that neighbouring countries had adopted measures, with varying degrees of vigour, to prevent activities from their territories that would violate the Agreement. However, considering the large quantities of weapons in private hands or hidden away, considerable potential for breaches of the Agreement continued in relation to the conflict in El Salvador.
In the prevailing Afluid and dynamic situation, the Secretary-General did not think Ait would be right to withdraw ONUCA or further reduce the scope of its operations. At that time, the number of military observers stood at 132. He therefore suggested an extension of the mandate until 30 April 1992, during which time the Security Council might reconsider ONUCA's future if developments warranted. The Security Council extended the mandate in resolution 719 (1991) of 6 November 1991, bearing in mind the Secretary-General's report and the need to monitor expenditures carefully during a period of increasing demands on peacekeeping resources.
In the meantime, there were major developments relating to settlement of the armed conflict in El Salvador, including additional verification tasks assigned to the United Nations Observer Mission in El Salvador (ONUSAL). The new Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, informed the Council of these tasks on 10 January 1992. He then stated his intention to meet as much as possible of the personnel requirements of ONUSAL's Military Division by transferring to it officers then serving with ONUCA. Aircraft, vehicles and other equipment would be similarly transferred. He had informed the Governments of the five countries where ONUCA was deployed of his intention to recommend the termination of ONUCA. Reporting on 14 January, he recalled that, in a previous report to the Council, his predecessor, Mr. Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, had referred to the cost of meeting the ever-growing demand for peacemaking and peacekeeping activities by the United Nations and to the widely held view that peacekeeping operations should be set up to do a specific task for a specific period and then be disbanded. With this in mind, the Secretary-General proposed that the Security Council decide to terminate ONUCA's operational mandate with effect from 17 January 1992. The Security Council, by its resolution 730 (1992) of 16 January, approved the Secretary-General's report and decided to terminate ONUCA's mandate.
On 24 January 1992, 131 military observers serving with ONUCA were transferred to ONUSAL. To supervise the closing of the Mission, a number of international and local staff serving with ONUCA were retained and subsequently phased out over a period of three and a half months.
ONUCA vividly illustrated the complex demands made of the Organization's peacemaking and peacekeeping skills and the varied role it played in advancing the peace process in Central America. Although initially established with the limited mandate of verifying only one aspect of that process, the tasks entrusted to it evolved, and it was able to assist the parties concerned to control and resolve the conflicts in the region. Its role in the demobilization of the members of the Nicaraguan Resistance marked an important step forward in the process of national reconciliation in Nicaragua. In his report recommending the termination of the Mission, the Secretary-General paid tribute to the military and civilian personnel who served in ONUCA for their great success in establishing the first large-scale peacekeeping operation of the United Nations in the Americas and for the contribution which they made to the restoration of peace and stability in Central America.
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