DATE=1/18/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT (L) TITLE=GUATEMALA MILITARY REFORM NUMBER=2-258176 BYLINE=GREG FLAKUS DATELINE=MEXICO CITY CONTENT= VOICED AT= INTRO: The new president of Guatemala, Alfonso Portillo, has taken an unprecedented step to reform his nation's military, in effect, removing all the army's generals. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from our Mexico bureau. TEXT: In a bold move announced on Tuesday, President Portillo named Colonel Juan de Dios Estrada Velasquez as defense minister. Under the rules of rank used by the military, all 20 army generals must now either resign or take a leave of absence, since they cannot outrank their commander. The new Defense Minister is a moderate officer who participated in the peace talks with leftist guerrillas that resulted in a peace agreement in 1996. That brought to an end a 30-year war that left some 200 thousand people dead. A United Nations-sponsored truth commission later revealed that the military had been responsible for 93 percent of the human rights abuses that occurred during the war. President Portillo said the appointment of Colonel Estrada is only temporary as he expects to name a civilian defense minister once the Congress approves a military reform package. Human Rights Activist Frank La Rue, speaking to VOA by telephone from his home in Guatemala City, credits President Portillo with what he calls "a bold and brave move." /// LA RUE ACT /// I think it is a very good sign, the purpose of which is not very clear yet. It is a reform of the military but we do not know in what direction. The leadership, the hierarchy, effectively had been controlled by the past administration, so it was, in a way, absolutely necessary for him (Portillo) and the new leadership coming in to push the hierarchy out. So, it is a bold political move, but no one knows exactly what the end of it will be. /// END ACT /// One factor that Mr. La Rue says provides some concern is the role of former General Efrain Rios Montt, the leader of Mr. Portillo's political party, the Guatemalan Republican Front, known as the F-R-G. Human Rights groups accuse General Rios Montt of massive abuses of civilians during his dictatorship in 1982 and 1983. The former general is now president of the new Congress and will oversee the approval of military reforms proposed by President Portillo. The F-R-G has a majority in the new Congress. The 48-year-old Mr. Portillo, who assumed the presidency last Friday, was elected last month with overwhelming support from some of the poorest sectors of Guatemalan society. He has promised to reform not only the military but the country's socioeconomic structure, which he says gives too much power to a small group of rich people at the expense of the poor. (Signed). NEB/GF/ENE/KL 18-Jan-2000 11:02 AM EDT (18-Jan-2000 1602 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .
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