US administration calls Salvador human-rights improvement 'more rapid than expected'

The Reagan administration is apparently preparing to certify human-rights progress on all fronts in El Salvador. In the case of land reform, which comes under the certification requirements, some officials believe that progress has actually been more rapid than they expected.

Elliott Abrams, US assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, sees land reform as ''a very strong point'' for the Salvadorean government.

''We thought it would be slow, grinding progress,'' said Abrams of land reform. ''But it's been faster than that. . . . The main problem at this point is that they don't have any money, and they can't pay compensation.

''But in phase three - land to the tiller - they've distributed thousands and thousands of titles since July. In July, there was clearly an effort to derail the program by the far right, and it failed.''

When it comes to Salvadorean political reforms, Abrams said: ''The notion that the Army runs everything and that there is no civilian political life is not true. The Constituent Assembly meets, and it is the place where the parties fight each other. . . . The Constituent Assembly is working on a constitution and they will elect a president next year.''

On the subject of seeking a solution to the Salvadorean conflict, Abrams said that it was difficult to take seriously the latest offer to negotiate from the guerrilla side because it was ''done through the press.''

In an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Abrams said that it was not easy to measure Salvadorean government control over the military except by the results.

''Our sense is that the violence against civilians - against innocent people - is decreasing. . . .,'' said Abrams. ''In the last six months, we've never had 200 killed in one month, which is a big improvement over 1981 and even over the first half of 1982.''

The assistant secretary said that the number of Salvadorean military officers who were disciplined for human-rights abuses was ''not enough but it's higher than it used to be.''

Abrams denied that the US Embassy in El Salvador was unwilling to support an investigation into the possible involvement of superior officers in the killing of the four American churchwomen who were slain in El Salvador in December 1980. The families of the four have charged that Salvadorean lawyers were convinced that this was the case.

''The families believe sincerely, I have no doubt, that there is some kind of coverup going on,'' said Abrams. ''But we're not interested in coverups. Everything that we've been able to find out tells us that there was no higher-up involvement in that case.''

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