SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Salvadorans Tuesday celebrated the formal end to their civil war with street festivals and an official ceremony in which U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called the country a 'shining example' for the world.
'The armed conflict in El Salvador has come to an end...At this turbulent time in history they are providing a shining example to the world,' Boutros-Ghali told the gathering of more than 3,000 people, including four Central American presidents, U.S. Vice President Dan Quayle, and representatives of dozens of other nations including former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and members of the Cuban Communist Party.
The ceremony began with a minute's silence in memory of the 12-year conflict's victims. Human rights groups estimate the war and related political violence took 75,000 lives -- more than 1 percent of this small Central American nation's population.
The United Nations was called in to help end the conflict 32 months ago after 10 years of fighting between the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, and the U.S.-backed Salvadoran army failed to give either side a decisive military advantage.
Almost two years of negotiations produced on Jan. 16, 1992 an unprecedented political settlement matching rebel demobilization with a series of reforms to El Salvador's democratic institutions.
On Monday the United Nations certified that the last rebels had turned in their guns and the FMLN became a legalized political party.
Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani welcomed the FMLN back into the country's institutional framework.
'We, all the men and women of this society, are at last reunited around a common project which is the democratization of our institutions,' Cristiani said.
Although the armed conflict has ended, the peace process continues. Still pending are reforms to the justice and electoral systems and completion of a dramatic restructuring of El Salvador's politically powerful armed forces.
Boutros-Ghali said the United Nations would maintain a presence in El Salvador to ensure the reforms are carried out.
Vice President Quayle, in a speech to the gathering, said El Salvador's peace process exemplified 'the promise of the new world order.'
'With the end of the Super Power confrontation and the active involvement of the United Nations in the cause of peace, we hope to see a further decline in the use of force to solve international problems,' Quayle said.
The vice president also used his speech at the ceremony to announce the signing of an agreement 'which forgives 75 percent of El Salvador's official debt with the United States.'
Salvadoran officials said the agreement would write off more than $400 million in debt as a contribution to the country's reconstruction efforts.
FMLN leader Schafik Handal said in his speech the former rebels were ready to move their struggle into the political arena, but he made it clear that their vision of the new world order called for a more just economic system than the neo-liberal model advocated for Latin America by the United States.
'In leaving behind our arms, we are not leaving behind our convictions or our revolutionary quality,' Handal said, adding that the FMLN would continue to be 'loyal to the poor and working people.'
In what appeared to be a lecture in geopolitics, the former guerrilla commander said the U.S. victory in the Cold War has not produced economic relief for the world's impoverished majority.
Invoking those killed in the Salvadoran war, Handal said 'they have left us with the charge of finding new models that combine economic growth and efficiency with social justice.'
As the ceremony proceeded, several thousand FMLN supporters and former guerrillas began gathering and setting up bandstands in preparation for a huge street party to celebrate the transition.
However, for some, the transition was an uncertain one.
'We are content that the war has ended, because that is what the people wanted,' said Amilcar, a former guerrilla who is waiting for the government to fulfill its promise of small plots of farmland for ex- combatants.
Rejoining civilian life after spending seven years fighting in the mountains, Amilcar said 'everything is very unstable for me right now. I still don't have my land and I don't know when the government is going to get around to providing it.'
A series of reforms and social commitments acquired by the government under the peace agreement are pending, and some politicians and diplomats worry that a lack of funding and a lack of political will may impede their implementation.
Leftist politicians outside the FMLN complained the rebels were negotiating with the Salvadoran military to limit a politically sensitive purge of the armed forces that, under the terms of the peace accord, should remove from their posts more than 100 senior officers suspected of abuses.
Gerardo LeChevallier, a member of the centrist Christian Democratic Party, said Cristiani's conservative party had used its majority in congress to water down some of the legal reforms the rebels had won through the peace process.
On the eve of Tuesday's gala event, LeChevallier compared the government and the FMLN to a troubled couple the day before their wedding.
'Everyone has been invited to the wedding, but the groom is already beating the bride,' LeChevallier said.