Religious leaders in Guatemala are divided on the wisdom of including full amnesty as one of the conditions within the peace agreement that has brought an official end to 36 years of guerrilla warfare.

On December 29, representatives of the Guatemalan government's Peace Commission and the commandants of the four Marxist rebel groups signed the final agreement for a "firm and lasting peace." International pressures and the loss of their ideological and economic bases with the breakup of the Soviet Union forced the urng (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity), the guerrilla umbrella organization, to the bargaining table, where they agreed to exchange their weapons for a political voice. The government also promised to reduce drastically their armed forces and implement social reforms.

The longest armed conflict in Latin America has left deep scars: an estimated 140,000 dead, 100,000 widows, 50,000 orphans, hundreds of thousands of displaced people, and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the infrastructure and economy. Poor subsistence farmers and agricultural laborers suffered the most from the violence.

"This is a day for forgiveness," Guatemalan President Alvaro Arzu said at the signing of the accord. "We cannot and should not forget, but we must forgive."

CONTROVERSIAL AMNESTY: The most controversial point in the agreement concerns an amnesty for crimes committed as part of the struggle. Both the army and the guerrillas committed torture and carried out bloody massacres.

Guatemala City Archbishop Prospero Penados del Barrio has condemned the amnesty provision, saying it will unjustly allow guilty parties to go unpunished.

However, Marco Antonio Rodriguez, president of the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala, which represents ...

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