Salvador-rebel talks: some promise, many problems

President Jose Napoleon Duarte's proposal for talks with leftist rebels on Oct. 4 is greeted as positive by Latin and European diplomats. But they caution that one-shot talks are unlikely to bridge the chasm that still exists between the two warring sides. ``Even if there are talks, that doesn't mean there will be substantive talks,'' warns one European diplomat. ``Substantive talks, I think, are still several years away.''

Rub'en Zamora, a rebel leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Front - a political ally of the guerrillas - said late Tuesday from his home in Managua, Nicaragua, that President Duarte's proposal earlier that day was ``positive,'' and the rebels would participate in the talks.

But Mr. Zamora said the rebels would not agree to lay down their arms as a precondition to talks. ``If the FMLN [Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front] laid down its arms before dialogue, what is the point of dialogue? The only thing left ... is to surrender. And if Duarte and the Army are not able to defeat the FMLN in the battlefield, ... why should the FMLN surrender just because Duarte asks them?'' Zamora said.

Peace talks between Duarte and the leftist rebels have floundered since two initial rounds in 1984. Although the promise of peace had been the major plank of Duarte's 1984 presidential campaign, pressure from the military, the right, and other groups opposing dialogue forced him to cut off talks, say political analysts who have followed the dialogue process.

In 1986, Duarte again proposed peace talks. But the talks scheduled to take place in Sesori in 1986 fell through after the Army militarized the area, prompting the rebels' refusal to come.

Most recently, talks Duarte proposed for Sept. 15 failed to materialize because he said he would only meet with the rebels if they would accept the Central American peace accord. The accord was signed by the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Nicaragua last month in Guatemala.

Duarte interprets the Aug. 7 accord as requiring the rebels to agree to lay down their arms. The rebels reject this interpretation.

But the rebels have met twice with Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez, seeking his mediation to facilitate talks with the Duarte government.

In a letter to President Arias, the Salvadorean rebels said, ``We are willing to orient our efforts toward peace within the framework of Esquipulas II [the peace plan's official name].'' Mr. Arias gave the letter to Duarte late last week.

``The letter was received [by Duarte], it was analyzed, and it was regarded as positive,'' the European diplomat says.

With rebel support for the peace accord, Duarte proposed peace talks for Oct. 4. In an apparent concession to the rebels, who have long pushed to have talks inside the country, Duarte proposed that the talks take place in the papal nunciature in San Salvador, which the rebels had originally requested. Duarte announced that Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas will mediate the talks.

But it became apparent even as Duarte spoke that the renewed dialogue would face problems. Although the rebels, in their letter, praised the peace plan as ``an important expression of political autonomy in the region,'' they pointed out that ``this accord, to be effectively applied in El Salvador, must respond to the specific particularities of our conflict.''

The Salvadorean rebels say their war is just, in contrast to that of the United States-directed Nicaraguan contras, who they dismiss as a creation of the CIA.

Duarte ended his statement by calling once again on the rebels to ``incorporate into the democratic process.'' Zamora response was that there isn't a ``truly democratic process in El Salvador,'' and that it, therefore, makes little sense for Duarte to call for rebel incorporation into it.

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