SAN SALVADOR — Surrounded by heavy security, President Jose Napoleon Duarte and leftist guerrilla leaders who are fighting his government met for 6 1/2 hours of peace talks Sunday and agreed to continue their dialogue today.
Archbishop of San Salvador Arturo Rivera y Damas, who is mediating the closed-door meeting, said that neither the government nor the guerrillas would comment on the talks while they are under way. He said both want "to demonstrate their will to reach agreements that contribute to achieving peace."
The dialogue is the first between the U.S.-backed government and Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas in nearly three years. The meeting began five hours late due to logistical problems in the guerrillas' arrival, which rebels blamed on the Salvadoran army, and the government blamed on the rebels.
In opening the session, Papal Nuncio Francesco de Nittis urged the warring factions to "be artisans of peace" and to "respond with deeds to the hopes of the suffering Salvadoran people." De Nittis hosted the talks at his residence in the hilly, tree-lined Escalon neighborhood, where San Salvador's elite live behind high brick walls.
Talks at Nuncio's Residence
The talks were being held in the formal dining room of the nuncio's residence. The two sides sat at an elongated, hardwood table beneath a portrait of the Virgin Mary.
In a press conference before the meeting, rebel commander Leonel Gonzalez said the guerrillas are willing to look for a political solution to the civil war that has claimed an estimated 62,000 lives, but he warned that it would take more than one round of dialogue to bring about peace.
"Our desire is to give continuity to a process of dialogue that will lead us to a negotiation," Gonzalez told reporters at the Spanish ambassador's residence, where the rebels were staying Sunday night.
"We come with constructive proposals that will permit us to find a formula for peace," Gonzalez said.
18-Point Rebel Plan
He did not give specifics of the guerrillas' proposals, but rebel leaders have said they want to discuss an 18-point plan for de-escalating the war through measures such as the elimination of some types of weapons.
Gonzalez is one of the five commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front fighting to oust Duarte's U.S.-backed government. The Farabundo Marti delegation also included commanders Schafik Jorge Handal, Jorge Melendez and Facundo Guardado.
They were accompanied by a delegation of civilian political allies from the Revolutionary Democratic Front, which included Guillermo Ungo, Ruben Zamora, Jorge Villacorta and Hector Oqueli.
Government officials issued a three-page statement they said Duarte read to the guerrillas at the beginning of the meeting.
"The Salvadoran people have been suffering the effects of a struggle which, if it had a historic justification, has disappeared," the statement said. "On the contrary, a road of faith and hope has been opened along which we can advance in the long march of reconciliation, justice, freedom, democracy and peace."
Duarte proposed that the guerrillas accept three points: "pardon and forgiveness," nonviolence and the procedure, objectives and dates established by the five Central American presidents in a peace accord signed Aug. 7.
That accord, which supports Central America's constituted governments and rejects insurgencies, calls for cease-fires and amnesty programs by Nov. 7.