Salvador prelate plays central role in kidnap case. Rivera's apparent breakthrough in bid to free In'es Duarte shows church's clout

Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas's intervention in the case of the Salvadorean President's kidnapped daughter and the apparent breakthrough it achieved are a measure of the influence of the Roman Catholic Church here. The church has taken on an activist role in spurring dialogue between the government and the rebels that became stalled after just two meetings almost a year ago.

After visiting two rebel strongholds this week, the Archbishop said In'es Guadalupe Duarte Dur'an would be freed soon.

Negotiations for Ms. Duarte's release were at a low point a week ago when El Salvador's top prelate made the two trips, on his own initiative. But now analysts note that the government and the rebels have made concessions, in part because of the the assurance given by Archbishop Rivera:

The government dropped its demand that 23 mayors in rebel captivity be released along with Duarte and her companion. Church officials say the release of the mayors is being negotiated separately and will occur after Duarte's release.

The rebels have withdrawn their demand that the government publicly account for nine missing guerrillas, presumed dead, before Duarte is released. Instead, the rebels are accepting Rivera's personal assurances to investigate the fate of the disappeared rebels and the government's offer to form an investigatory commission.

Over the past few months the rebels have criticized the church for remaining silent in the case of one rebel commandant missing since Dec. 30.

The rebels were also angered by the church's pastoral letter issued in August, which urged dialogue as the only solution to the war. The letter also took some swipes at the rebels, including an acknowledgement that the Salvadorean government is legitimate because it came to power through national elections. The rebels do not consider the government legitimate.

Church liberals say that giving the document a pro-government slant was the only way to get the generally conservative bishops to support the call for dialogue.

Still, at the time, observers noted the measured tone of the rebels' public criticism. The rebels' main complaint was that the Archbishop had not promoted dialogue more actively. The rebels were also upset that the Archbishop had placed responsibility for promoting dialogue in the hands of his assistant, Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Ch'aves, whom the rebels consider hostile to their cause.

Observers note, however, that the rebels didn't want the Archbishop alone to mediate in the kidnapping case. The rebels specifically asked for the inclusion of the Jesuit-run Central American University, which sympathizes with the rebel cause. Two members of the Jesuit university accompanied the Archbishop on his trips to the rebel zones.

The church has shifted from a once-radical stance to a more moderate position, church members say. The retreat from the radical position of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero (assassinated in March 1980) has disappointed some church members.

Romero supported civilian organizations which were pushing for radical reforms -- better living standards and an end to Army repression.

Others say times have changed: The country is now in the midst of open civil war.

Some observers say the breakthrough in the kidnapping case is a hopeful sign for the peace talks, stalled since last November.

``It shows that negotiations are possible if the stakes are high enough, and what could be higher stakes than the future of El Salvador as a nation?'' asks an academic analyst.

Others are less hopeful.

``Neither of them wants a peaceful solution,'' says one liberal Christian Democrat.

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