SAN SALVADOR — Salvadoran government officials and leftist guerrilla leaders talked into the night Monday, holding the longest round of peace negotiations in nearly eight years of civil war.
It was not clear whether the prolonged, two-day session indicated progress or a deadlock between President Jose Napoleon Duarte and commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
"They have entered into issues of substance," said San Salvador Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez, who is acting as spokesman for the dialogue. "I think there is a clear consciousness of the responsibility both delegations have to give the people results, not just tell them there were problems."
Sessions of 1984
Two previous negotiating sessions in 1984 lasted 4 1/2 hours and 12 hours and ended without substantial agreements. Sunday's negotiations lasted 6 1/2 hours, and the two sides were still talking Monday after nine hours.
Neither the U.S.-backed government nor the guerrillas have significantly altered basic positions since the 1984 talks.
The government argues that the guerrillas should put down their arms and join the existing political system. The guerrillas say that there are two powers in El Salvador and that there should be a new constitution, integrated armies and a transition government in which their power would be officially recognized.
But the guerrillas also indicated at the beginning of the meeting that they wanted to discuss smaller goals such as measures to de-escalate the war. The government is obligated by a Central American peace plan to take steps to achieve an effective cease-fire with the rebels.
Proposal Drawn Up
The peace accord, signed by the five Central American presidents Aug. 7, calls for cease-fires, amnesty programs and democratic reforms by Nov. 7.
The Salvadoran armed forces have drawn up a cease-fire proposal, but it was not known if Duarte will put the plan on the table.
Sources close to the negotiations said the two sides were working from an agenda that included three points:
-- The peace plan and the country's political situation.
-- "Forgive and forget," or amnesty issues.
-- Specific agreements, such as measures to de-escalate the war.
Sources said the first day of talks Sunday was spent "letting off steam," with each side presenting its position.
"Look at it as a troubled married couple trying to get back together. The meeting yesterday was to get out all of the bad feelings," said one source, who spoke only on condition he not be identified. "We haven't gotten them back together yet, but we'll keep trying."
He said the two sides were to get down to specific issues Monday. The source said he believed the best that can be expected from the talks is an agreement to hold future meetings.
Another source who spoke with guerrilla representatives after the first meeting described them as "not euphoric, but not pessimistic." A third source said the rebels were "satisfied."
Guerrillas and Exiles
The Farabundo Marti Front delegation includes guerrilla commanders Leonel Gonzalez, Schafik Jorge Handal, Facundo Guardado and Jorge Melendez, who is also known as "Commander Jonas."
They were accompanied by a delegation of civilian political exiles from the Revolutionary Democratic Front, which included Guillermo Ungo, Ruben Zamora, Jorge Villacorta and Hector Oqueli.
Duarte and Minister of Defense Carlos Vides Casanova led the government delegation. Other members were Minister of Culture and Communications Julio Adolfo Rey Prendes, Minister of Planning Fidel Chavez Mena, presidential designate Abraham Rodriguez, Vice Minister of Public Security Reynaldo Lopez Nuila, businessman Federico Bloch and pro-government union leader Jose Luis Grande Preza.
The meeting is being held at the residence of the papal nuncio amid heavy security.