El Salvador inches toward crisis as US team ends murder probe

Events in El Salvador appear to be reaching a new climax. Jose Napoleon Duarte, the most prominent civilian on the civilian-military junta, says, "We are at the point of ultimate crisis."

Three factors underline this assessment:

* The high-level US team investigating the murders of four US women in El Salvador Dec. 3 has just returned to Washington.

* The Central American country is awash with persistent rumors of right-wing military action, perhaps a coup, against the junta.

* US Ambassador Robert E. White has attacked Ronald Reagan's transition team for undercutting his role and encouraging El Salvador's rightists.

Many rightists believe that the election of former Governor Reagan gives their goal of wiping out leftist insurgents a big assist. They feel that the US under Mr. Reagan would not look unkindly on a rightist coup.

Whether or not that is true, there is no doubt that Mr. Reagan's election has infused new joy into Salvadorean rightists. The presence on the US investigatory team of people close to Mr. Reagan added to this enthusiasm. The probers,however, were extremely reticent about showing any favoritism as they went about their mission in El Salvador. They have given no hints on their findings in connection with the deaths of the US women, which prompted formation of the team, or the present status of the Salvadorean civil war.

With the team back in Washington readying a personal report to President Carter, with President-elect Reagan being kept fully informed, Ambassador White took sharp aim at the Reagan transition team -- claiming that its statements had undermined "my ability to influence events and keep making a policy which has worked reasonably well over the last nine months."

As Mr. White issued his charges, there was uncertainty over the future of the junta that the US and Ambassador White have supported so earnestly in the past nine months.Col. Adolfo Armando Majano who reportedly was ousted from the junta by the overwhelming vote of the military commanders, was apparently still in office Dec. 10.

But Mr. Duarte, leader of the moderate Christian Democratic Party, said changes in the government "are forthcoming."

"We are at a point of new departure," he continued, "and yet our basic thrust remains the same: to provide a revolutionary, non-Marxist government that seeks economic and social reform on a grand scale."

He also argued, however, that the current escalation in violence, including killings by rightists, "has got to stop." More than 10,000 people -- perhaps as many 12,000 -- have been killed since Jan. 1. Mr. Duarte threatened to step down from the junta unless the government can find a way to end the violence.

The junta, meanwhile, is trying to get across the message to the Reagan people that it is the best alternative in El Salvador: a non-Marxist government that seeks to make basic social and economic change to better the lot of the average Salvadorean.

The situation in El Salvador has developed into a three-way struggle: The left and right are battling each other, and the junta, attacked by both left and right, is in the middle. To many on the scene, including Ambassador White, the junta is the only viable alternative to right-wing dictatorship -- given the increasing power of the right and the declining fortunes of the left.

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