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Duarte Calls Out to Absent Rebels : Pleads for Peace in El Salvador at Site of Intended Talks

September 20, 1986|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

SESORI, El Salvador — In a ceremony marking what was originally intended to be a dialogue for peace, President Jose Napoleon Duarte addressed a theatrical monologue Friday to guerrillas who were not present.

Duarte and the Marxist-led rebels who are battling his U.S.-backed government in the countryside had failed to agree on security measures for what would have been a third round of peace talks during Duarte's presidency and the first such session in almost two years. Duarte, nevertheless, took the stage in the white-washed central plaza of this farming town where the two sides were to have met.

"We are here," Duarte shouted with evangelical vigor, citing the commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front by name. "Wherever you are . . . I am here, waiting for you to talk about peace, not war."

Bused-in Audience

His plea for peace was impassioned, but many of the workers bused in from neighboring cities and provinces were unsure why they were here. The government brought hundreds of Public Works Department employees and war-displaced citizens employed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, who said they received their day's wage for attending the ceremony.

Many residents of this long-neglected town knew that a peace monologue could not end 6 1/2 years of fighting between the army and the insurgents.

"We hoped the guerrillas would come too and that there would be some understanding," said Hector Valdez, 60, owner of a veterinary pharmacy. "We are frustrated. They can't talk now, and we're right back where we were."

Duarte called for the guerrillas to put down their arms and enter the political system of this country, which he said has changed from violent times of the past.

Diplomatic Observers

"The people are not asking for unconditional surrender, but for national incorporation," Duarte said. He was flanked by the minister of defense and the presidents of the Supreme Court and Legislative Assembly. The American ambassador and half-a-dozen other top foreign diplomats also were present.

The guerrillas, however, reject the legitimacy of Duarte's government and the constitution, which they assert were formed during wartime, without participation by a large sector of the population. While the government wants to talk about their disarming, the rebels want to discuss getting a share of government, forming a new army that embraces the guerrillas and drafting a new constitution.

As Duarte spoke, artillery fire could be heard in the distance as 3rd Brigade troops conducted an operation a few miles away.

Security was heavy, with helicopters circling overhead and the elements of the elite Arce Battalion, attired in combat uniforms and camouflage face paint, mounting guard in Sesori.

Windfall for Town

In spite of the lack of progress towards peace, the intended talks provided a windfall for this town of about 5,000, located 90 miles northeast of the capital, where guerrillas and army troops have alternately held sway.

For several years, Sesori has had no telephone service or judge, and the mayor has been absent. Medical services were supplied by a doctor who visited twice a week.

But in the last three weeks, Duarte's Christian Democratic government has renovated battle-damaged buildings, repaired the rutted dirt road into town, painted over military and guerrilla graffiti and laid telephone lines. The government agreed to pay the cost of four teachers whom the townspeople themselves had been paying, and Duarte promised to send a full-time physician.

Nelly Castillo, 28, a store owner, said the renovation and Friday's ceremony were giving residents "the desire to return to life."

"They had us humiliated," she said. "This was a sad and lonely place. Today we are happy."

Mayor Due Back

Business was brisk in Sesori on Friday.

Mayor Julio Gonzalez, 71, who has not lived here during the 17 months he has held office, said he will return from the provincial capital of San Miguel, where he has been doing town business, if the army stays on after Friday's event.

"If the troops are here, we stay. If the troops leave, we leave," the mayor said.

The rebels try to prevent local officials from functioning in such areas as Sesori that they consider to be under their control. In the past, they have kidnaped and even killed mayors whom they proclaimed had no right to govern.

Some Sesori residents said they feared reprisals from the guerrillas for accepting the new government aid. Gen. Carlos E. Vides Casanova, the defense minister, said troops would remain here "until they are needed in another area."

But many of the soldiers left shortly after the president, and the national telephone company quickly pulled out the newly installed telephone service, saying they had orders from their bosses to get out of town before the troops left and the guerrillas arrived.

Panama Breakdown

Duarte issued a call in June for resumption of the peace talks, but the two sides were unable to agree on a date until late August. Negotiations held in Panama to fix an agenda broke down last weekend over who would control security in Sesori.

The guerrillas wanted a "demilitarized zone" around Sesori, and the government refused, accusing the rebels of trying to regain ground that they had lost in battle.

The government had moved troops into Sesori days after it was selected as the site of talks.

On Thursday, the guerrillas called for a resumption of talks Sept. 29 in Mexico or Panama, but from the stage in Sesori on Friday, Duarte rejected further preliminary negotiations.

The two sides met twice in 1984 amid much optimism but failed to reach any agreement.

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