April 18, 2006

Honduras, El Salvador close book on ‘Soccer War’

By Gustavo Palencia

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) - The presidents of
Honduras and El Salvador stood on their border and shook hands
on Tuesday, formally burying a boundary squabble that dates
back to a short but bloody 1969 conflict dubbed "The Soccer

Presidents Manuel Zelaya of Honduras and Tony Saca of El
Salvador met at the tiny border town of El Poy to ratify their
233 mile border, which had been in dispute since the 1969
"Soccer War" killed some 5,000 people in brief but bloody army
skirmishes. Neither side gained a decisive military victory.

Called the Soccer War, or Football War, because it was
triggered by tensions that erupted in rival stands of a series
of World Cup qualifier matches between the Central American
neighbors, the conflict lasted just a few days, but has taken
decades to resolve.

The border was fixed by an international judge in 1992, but
it has taken 14 years for the two countries to set up monuments
and border posts to actually mark out the frontier.

"We are signing the fruit of a collective effort over many
decades," Zelaya told a crowd of some 200 people from both
sides of the border.

The two leaders said they planned joint infrastructure
projects, like a hydroelectric dam, and a customs union to
allow free movement of people and goods between their

"From today, the issue of border demarcation between
Honduras and El Salvador is simply in the past and done with,"
Saca said.

Even with the border fixed, tensions run high in places,
with several thousand Salvadorans still living in an area of
the border that was handed to Honduras in the 1992 ruling.

One of several festering border spats in Latin America, the
conflict arose out of Honduran resentment of Salvadoran
migrants and a years-old disagreement over the location of the

In 1969 Honduras sparked a social and political upheaval by
evicting masses of Salvadoran peasants, who had fled land
shortages at home.

Mutual hatred between the two nations was inflamed at the
first soccer play-off in Tegucigalpa when Salvadoran fans
taunted and vilified the victorious Honduran players.

Sparring continued, leaving black eyes, broken bones and
burnt-out cars, at a return match which El Salvador won.

When El Salvador won the final play-off at a raucous third
match in Mexico City, Honduras charged the team with cheating.

Hostilities quickly flared into a diplomatic stand-off and
then full-on military action as El Salvador attacked Honduras.

A ceasefire was called after a few days but it was another
decade before a peace accord was signed in 1980 -- and even
then the neighbors could not agree on where to draw the border.

The case was taken to the International Court of Justice,
which in 1992 set out a boundary granting Honduras most of the
disputed territory in the border area, mostly mountainous
terrain that is home to poor rural communities.