Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Delays in Police Reform Stir Mistrust in Salvador Many Worry Government Will Allow Army Rights Abusers to Join Force

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Delays in Police Reform Stir Mistrust in Salvador Many Worry Government Will Allow Army Rights Abusers to Join Force

Article excerpt

SUBCOMMANDER Nelson Antonio Donan is a front-line example of El Salvador's new civilian-run police force: friendly, youthful, and college-educated. He represents a stark contrast to the poor reputation of the military-run National Police force.

The task is often a frustrating, uphill battle. The 320 officers under his command patrol one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city without enough radios, cars, or weapons.

"One of our biggest challenges is to win the trust of the people, to create a new image of the police," Mr. Donan says. "If we can't get the equipment and training to be effective, we're going to lose the trust of the people."

But equipment shortages are only part of the problem. US Ambassador Alan Flanigan, UN officials, and human rights advocates here say the Salvadoran government is jeopardizing the new National Civilian Police (PNC) by trying to incorporate into its ranks members of National Police (PN) as that force is dismantled.

"If the Salvadoran people can't have confidence in their security forces, democracy is not going to work," Ambassador Flanigan says.

Before the United Nations-brokered 1992 peace accords ended a brutal 12-year civil war, Salvadoran security forces consisted of the PN, Treasury Police, and the National Guard. All were military units with reputations for human rights abuses, such as torture and assassination. Two have been abolished under the peace accords. The PN, basically an urban antiterrorist unit, is starting to be phased out. It is being replaced by newly recruited and trained PNC agents, such as Donan.

Over the last two years, the United States has spent nearly $27 million on training and equipment for the PNC. The long-awaited delivery of 180 patrol cars is expected within a month.

The Salvadoran government - criticized by the UN for withholding funds and technical support for the development of the PNC - is apparently delaying the demobilization of the PN in a maneuver to incorporate more of its members into the new police force, Flanigan and others say.

Disbanding the PN has already fallen behind the schedule stipulated by the peace accords. The latest halt: a three-week pause to provide security for the March 20 presidential elections.

The concern is that the new government will wait until just before the Oct. 31 deadline to demobilize the bulk of the PN in hopes of transferring large numbers of ex-PN into the PNC. It may even try to push back the demobilization deadline.

"The 5,700-member PNC force expected by Oct. 31 is not sufficient to provide security for the entire country," says Minister of the Presidency Oscar Alfredo Santamaria. To allow time to train more PNC agents, "we're talking about a delay in the PN demobilization until March 1995."

THERE is a good case for more police. …

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