Delay threatens Salvador peace: Ruben Zamora, a prominent left-wing politician, talks to Elizabeth Nash about the precarious state of the deal signed to end the 12-year-old civil war

EL SALVADOR, which has been labouring for nine months to implement a UN-brokered peace accord, may not meet the deal's most crucial deadline - for the demobilisation of guerrilla forces - by 31 October as planned.

The left-wing leader, Ruben Zamora, vice-president of the legislative assembly and a pivotal figure in the negotiated peace process warned in London this week: 'No one is saying so publicly, but we have to recognise that 31 October is a date impossible to fulfil.'

Mr Zamora, once a Christian Democrat minister in a short-lived reformist government in 1980, fled into a seven-year exile after his brother was gunned down at home and his own name appeared on a death list. He returned to El Salvador in 1987, was elected to parliament in March last year and now leads the Democratic Convergence, a left-wing bloc.

'If we delay the demobilisation of the FMLN (the coalition of guerrilla groups), then we delay the clean-up of the armed forces, the separation of the police from the army and the integration of military forces into civilian life,' he said, 'and these military matters take up 85 per cent of the peace accord document.'

The peace accord signed in January, which marked the end of El Salvador's 12-year civil war, set out an ambitious timetable to take the country from a state of war through to a ceasefire, and eventually to elections in March 1994. It was a moment that Mr Zamora, a man who conveys the impression simultaneously of passionate urgency and infinite patience, had been awaiting for 20 years.

A few months' delay would not derail the delicate peace process, he said, but a delay of more than six months could scupper the agreement. It would affect the election timetable, which is dictated by the constitution. 'Everybody agrees that the FMLN cannot go into an election campaign still under arms. And we can't change the election date without constitutional interference.'

Mr Zamora blames President Alfredo Cristiani's conservative Arena government for dragging its heels from the moment the peace accord was signed. 'The government cannot reject the agreement or say it will not implement it, but it has tried to go as slowly as it can,' he said. The FMLN, whose military invincibility brought Arena to the negotiating table in the first place, are reluctant to lay down their arms before the military have fulfilled their promise to reform.

Despite the race against time, Mr Zamora believes the agreement will, in the end, be fulfilled. 'The government were reluctant because they believed, mistakenly, that the FMLN would just fall apart after the ceasefire, but they won't disarm unless they get what they want. The government now recognises this, and I think they will start to stick to the timetable.'

The United Nations Secretary- General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, hailed the Salvador peace accord as a 'negotiated revolution'. This was an exaggeration, Mr Zamora said. 'Negotiation is not a revolution. We have not achieved a revolution. But we have achieved the possibility to continue the struggle and make advances.'

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