Salvador rebel: we want peace but will fight on

Hours after he took part in talks with the government he has fought for five years, Salvadorean guerrilla Commandante Ferman Cienfuegos was back in his mountain base camp organizing rebels for their next armed attacks.

The commandante, regarded here as perhaps the most intellectually astute leader in the guerrilla high command, says a negotiated solution to El Salvador's conflict is possible. But he warns that there are many areas in which efforts to compromise may founder.

Watching patrols of his heavily armed men fan down from the camp and buttoning his fatigue jacket against a cold wind, Cienfuegos told a small group of reporters that ''the comportment of both sides was very good'' at Monday's historic meeting between Salvadorean officials and rebel leaders. But he says the government is going to have to make some major changes if it wants to end this country's civil war.

''The process we have started is torturous, difficult, and long. We (rebels) may have the desire for peace, but we also have political objectives,'' the soft-spoken rebel leader says.

''The proposal given to us by the government must be modified. The government has to show flexibility in their proposals,'' Cienfuegos says.

''Duarte thinks democracy is comprised of voting booths, but this is not the reality. We are not going to achieve democracy with the traditional political parties,'' he says.

The commandante, who leads the Armed Forces of National Resistance in the armed coalition known as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, says the rebels can envision pariticipating in Salvadorean elections.

''But democracy does not mean going to the ballot box. Democracy begins with the participation of the individual,'' he says. He explains that this means formation of small committees at the community level, which then will set up mass organizations.

Salvadorean President Jose Napoleon Duarte, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said he proposed that rebels and government leaders meet this week so that rebels could begin to prepare for political campaigns leading into elections in March.

Monday's meeting did not produce a rebel agreement to participate in elections, but it did produce a resolve for the two sides to meet again in late December and to form a delegation to look into solutions for ending the war.

''We must now study the historical examples of compromises,'' Cienfuegos says , ''like (in) Zimbabwe, and the (compromises between) South Africa and Mozambique, as well as Colombia. We will study these situations before making a proposal.''

''The problem,'' the rebel leader says, ''is that Duarte does not have power, political power remains with the military.''

Cienfuegos does not see the military institution as necessarily a stumbling block to a negotiated settlement to the civil war.

''The military is divided into three sectors with differing political orientations,'' says the commandante, whose brother is a colonel in the Salvadorean Army. ''One group, whose power is diminishing, is represented by (right-wing leader Roberto) d'Aubuisson and other fascists.

''Politically these people no longer have a lot of support within the armed forces. The second sector is made up of the counterinsurgency technicians trained by the United States. They are mostly apolitical, more concerned with their technical performances as commanders. And the third are the nationalists, who want something better for the country.''

Cienfuegos says he feels that this last sector within the military could one day create the necessary support within the Army for a negotiated settlement to the war.

''You have to remember that the Army has changed as an institution, it is becoming more professional and is now dedicated to fighting the war,'' Cienfuegos says. ''It supports the agrarian reform, which was unthinkable in the past. The problem is that it still controls the political process.''

But for now ''there will be no cease-fire,'' Cienfuegos says. ''We didn't even bring the possibility up at the meeting.''

(This statement appears to conflict with remarks made by a leader of the political front of the rebel movement. Guillermo Manuel Ungo reportedly told a Colombian radio reporter that the government turned down a rebel proposal for a cease-fire. Ungo reportedly said this shows President Duarte is not serious about peace.)

Rebel leaders describe this first meeting with government leaders as ''serene'' and ''respectful.''

''When Guillermo Ungo (leader of the political wing of the rebel movement) came into the room,'' says Facundo Guardado, another rebel who attended Monday's meeting, ''he greeted Duarte by calling him 'Mr. President.' It was a controlled , but, I think, emotional moment.''

Guerrilla commandantes Cienfuegos and Guardado deny that the purported improvement in the government's performance on the battlefield has pushed them to negotiate with the government.

''We have stated since 1981 that we want dialogue,'' Cienfuegos says. ''We sent a letter to President Duarte in March 1984 and a message again in June to the Rev. Jesse Jackson. None of this is new. We want to negotiate a peaceful settlement, but we want peace with liberty and justice. We don't want peace at any cost.''

Cienfuegos says he worries that President Reagan will block any possible negotiated settlement. ''Reagan is sabotaging Contadora (the four-nation peace proposal designed to demilitarize Central America) and militarizing the region. I doubt that - even if Duarte and the military agreed to a negotiated settlement - Reagan would allow it to happen.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.