UNITED NATIONS — After a week of meetings with the opposing sides, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar expressed cautious optimism Friday that his efforts to mediate an end to the 11-year-old civil war in El Salvador will succeed soon.
"We have made progress" in restarting the peace talks, stalemated for the past two months over the issue of how to integrate the guerrilla units of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front into the civilian society, he told a press conference.
But, he added, the problems are "exceedingly difficult. It would be misleading to say we are on the brink of agreement, but both sides are committed to progress and to solving the problems in the shortest possible time."
The talks between U.N. officials and the two sides--Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani and five FMLN military leaders--will continue next week, Perez de Cuellar said.
Both sides have indicated the negotiations have made progress on the basis of new ideas laid out by the secretary general at the start of this week's talks.
Cristiani has said agreement could be near on an agenda for the scheduled next round of formal peace talks between the two sides in Venezuela next month. And one of the senior rebel commanders, Schafik Jorge Handal, said the talks are on a "good course."
One optimistic schedule is for a full agreement to be reached, including a truce, by mid-December, before Perez de Cuellar, who has invested considerable time and prestige in the effort, leaves office at the end of the year.
The Salvadoran civil war, which has taken an estimated 75,000 lives, is one of the last remnants of the Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. Washington backed the Salvadoran government in the name of stability; Moscow, generally acting through Cuba, backed the rebels in the name of international solidarity and revolution.
With the collapse of the Soviet state and renunciation of communism there, most of the Third World conflicts involving superpower clients have been settled, and specialists believe the Salvadoran conflict will also be ended soon.
Moscow, which last week publicly announced it would withdraw military forces from Cuba, has reportedly urged the Salvadoran rebels to settle now.