Salvadorean officials optimistic about new peace talks

Salvadorean officials are optimistic that last week's government-guerrilla summit can lead to serious negotiations toward resolving this country's civil war.

But at the same time government forces have launched a major offensive against the rebels in northern Morazan Province, a traditional guerrilla stronghold, and smaller actions in Usulutan, Cabanas, and San Vicente provinces. The rebels, too, have resumed military activity.

Resumption of fighting came all too soon for many of the Salvadoreans who cheered and clapped their hands for President Jose Napoleon Duarte on Oct. 15 as he drove toward the summit in the tiny northern mountain town of La Palma.

Some of these Salvadoreans now seem cynical about the prospects for peace. But both government and rebel sources indicate they have hopes that new talks scheduled for late November will be another step toward peace.

The La Palma talks were held to ''air points of view,'' a government official says. The November talks, he says, will focus on forming a commission made of government officials and rebels that would present proposals for ending the war.

One government negotiator at last week's meeting, Rene Fortin Magana, says he is hopeful in part because the rebels seemed more moderate than expected at the La Palma meeting. The mood of moderation surprised him, he says.

''If the (November) talks continue in the same tone and with the same decorum , I think we could have a negotiated settlement within a year,'' Dr. Magana told the Monitor.

The political and military situation was further complicated by the deaths of four United States CIA agents Friday in a plane crash - the first known CIA casualties in El Salvador's civil war.

The US government said the plane crashed into the Guazapa Volcano in a heavy rainstorm while it was searching for signs of rebel offensives and arms shipments from Nicaragua to the Salvadorean guerrillas.

Numerous sources here in San Salvador think the plane was probably on a reconnaissance mission to assist the Salvadorean Army offensives. They say that most diplomatic observers contend that arms sent to the rebels arrive in El Salvador by boat, well away from the volcano. These observers point out that US reconnaissance flights have been carried out almost daily since January and that they have on occasion assisted Salvadorean forces by providing intelligence during combat.

Rebel Radio Venceremos charged in a broadcast Saturday that the plane was firing on civilians in Morazan. ''Our antiaircraft units delivered concentrated fire against the aircraft on Thursday,'' Venceremos said, but it stopped short of claiming rebels had forced the plane down. The report said three Salvadorean soldiers also died in the crash.

Venceremos also alleged that the Salvadorean military had tried to take over the radio station, but failed. And it charged that the head of US military mission in El Salvador - Col. James Steele - was in a helicopter in northern Morazan Friday that had machine-gunned civilians, including women and children, while flying over a small town.

Independent sources confirmed the colonel was in Morazan in a helicopter that day, but could not confirm or deny he was in a craft that had fired on civilians.

Small OV-1 Mohawk observation planes and large C-130 Hercules transport aircraft taking off from Palmerola airfield across the border in Honduras sometimes send immediate intelligence data to the Salvadorean military in battle. These planes have sometimes helped direct mortar, artillery, and aircraft fire on suspected rebel positions.

An official who is optimistic about talks with rebels, but who wishes to remain unidentified, says: ''The rebels have changed their position. The guerrillas appear less hard line and more flexible.

''My opinion is that they are weaker. They have lost political and military power, and are now dealing with a legitimate government that has wide respect and standing. If Duarte continues to consolidate his military and political gains, the guerrillas are only going to be forced into a more accommodating position.''

Negotiator Magana told the Monitor, ''The final resolution (at La Palma) was a victory for us because of the call for a pluralist society, which negates, perhaps, what harder elements in the guerrillas want.'' Contrary to some reports , he said, the rebels did not present a list of demands to the government at La Palma.

President Duarte told reporters after the La Palma meeting that the rebels would not be given government positions nor allowed to be incorporated into the armed forces as part of a negotiated settlement. He called on them to transform themselves into political parties to take part in elections.

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