Guns fall silent in Guatemala truce

One of the modern world's longest guerrilla wars, the 35-year-old Guatemalan insurgency, could soon be over after the government and left-wing rebels separately declared an open-ended truce.

In a goodwill gesture ahead of peace talks next week, the guerrillas of the National Revolutionary Unity of Guatemala group said they would "temporarily suspend all offensive military operations" and fight only if attacked by the army. It was the first time they had declared an indefinite ceasefire, rather than one pegged to a specific event such as the recent presidential elections or last month's visit by the Pope.

President Alvaro Arzu, who took office in January, immediately responded by ordering the army to hold its fire. He was travelling to the Ixcan highland region yesterday, one of the zones of most intense fighting in past years, to ensure the troops got the message andcomplied.

The ceasefire appeared to reflect a new trust between government and rebels since Mr Arzu, a 50-year-old former travel agent of part-Russian extraction, took office. He has pledged to end the conflict by the summer.

The Guatemalan conflict, initially a civil war pitting poverty-stricken Mayan Indians against a ruthless army and a wealthy elite, is the last remaining guerrilla insurgency of many which have plagued Central America. An estimated 100,000 Guatemalans are known to have been killed while a further 40,000 "disappeared".

Most of the deaths and disappearances were blamed on the army which largely crushed the rebels in the early Eighties with a "scorched-earth" policy of burning down entire Indian villages to flush out the rebels and discourage their supporters.

Since the Generals stood down, and democracy was restored in 1986, the conflict has been little more than a nuisance to most Guatemalans, with rebels blocking highways and blowing up electricity pylons. But it has retained symbolic importance for the poor, indigenous population in whose name the rebels fought.

While rarely taking on the army in recent years, the guerrillas have maintained political influence in remote areas, financing themselves with millions of dollars in "war tax" extorted from ranchers and other sources. Some Guatemalans fear that, even after a peace agreement, some rebels may continue to rule the roost in highland areas, living off the proceeds of extortion.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral