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Hopes for Salvador Peace Fade as Talks Are Suspended

September 19, 1990|KENNETH FREED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Hopes for a quick end to El Salvador's decade-old civil war faded Tuesday when government and rebel negotiators suspended talks with no real progress.

The negotiators agreed to resume the talks in late October or early November in Mexico. However, sources on both sides said the failure of the latest round means, in effect, that there will be no agreement until after El Salvador's national elections next March.

A diplomat close to the talks told a reporter: "The process might mark time for several months . . . . With the elections coming up, neither side feels it can take the necessary risks to make an agreement now."

He added, however, that he does not think either side is "ready to pick up its marbles and go home."

This view was supported by indications that the Marxist rebels--the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front--may put off an expected guerrilla offensive until November or December.

According to rebel delegate Ana Guadalupe Martinez, the guerrillas will undertake "a political offensive" to explain what sort of political, economic and military system should follow a peace agreement.

She said the rebels will demand that the question be debated in El Salvador's Congress, with full television and radio coverage.

The guerrillas hope also that, by delaying the offensive, they can influence the U.S. Congress to reduce military aid to the Salvadoran government, now about $85 million a year.

The six days of talks in San Jose were the sixth round since the two sides agreed to resume peace efforts after a major rebel offensive last November. The only concrete accomplishment so far is agreement to establish an agency to monitor human rights activities once a cease-fire is reached.

As it has been since the first round of talks, the major obstacle to agreement is the future of the Salvadoran military. The rebels' latest demand is for total demobilization of the 57,000-member army and the punishment of officers blamed for killing civilians and for other human rights violations.

The government has refused to consider the proposal, although it has agreed to make unspecified personnel reductions and to demilitarize police units and place them under civilian control.

Government sources say that recent changes in the military command structure have already removed several officers associated with human rights violations.

Martinez, the rebel delegate, said much more is needed because the military, particularly at the senior commander level, is as tainted as the cashiered officers and cannot be trusted to accept a political settlement.

Government sources say the rebel arguments are little more than an attempt to disguise either the guerrilla front's belief that it can still win a military victory or its internal disagreement on objectives.

They point to a dramatic change in the rebel position, from what appeared to be a flexible stance on the military to its rigid present position.

"This was a giant step backward," an American diplomat said. "The government wants to talk about military reform . . . but the rebels have been trying to drag things out. It shows a lack of seriousness that I find very disturbing."

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