Duarte's call for peace talks sparks some skepticism

Salvadoreans' growing weariness with the six-year civil war and increasing disenchantment with recent economic austerity measures have pushed President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte to call for new talks with left-wing rebels, say political and diplomatic analysts. ``Duarte's under tremendous pressure. He had to do something flashy,'' says a foreign observer. ``People really want peace. If he has peace talks, people may feel that the economy will get better, that the war may end, that they should hold off and things will improve.''

Military analysts say that the civil war could stretch on for many more years because the rebels have developed new tactics to adapt to the improvements within the United States-backed Salvadorean Army.

President Duarte said Sunday that he would hold a third meeting with the rebels either in late July or August inside El Salvador. Duarte called on the rebels to lay down their arms and ``join the democratic process.''

Two previous rounds of peace talks at La Palma and Ayagualo have been unsuccessful in producing positive results. The last meeting was held November 1984.

Rebel leader Guillermo Ungo, consulted by phone in Panama, said the rebels would accept the dialogue ``if it is a serious proposal for a third dialogue like La Palma and Ayagualo and not just a propaganda ploy in which he will ask us to lay down our arms and surrender.''

``I don't think anything will come of it,'' said one Western diplomat. ``The right will probably attack it, and that is as far as it will go.'' He said other observers were also skeptical about the proposal.

``We would accept it, definitively,'' said Mr. Ungo, leader of the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR). The FDR is a grouping of social democratic parties allied with the guerrilla Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN). ``I don't have to consult with the other front [the FMLN] because this has been our position. For a year and a half our position has been to seek a serious dialogue.''

Duarte stopped the 1984 peace talks saying that the rebels were only using dialogue ``tactically.'' Analysts, however, say that both the Army and the political right have increasingly opposed dialogue with the rebels because they do not recognize the rebels as legimitate.

Ungo said that the rebels would still have to read Duarte's statement carefully and consult with the mediator, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, before issuing an official position. ``I'm personally very happy about Duarte's proposal, irrespective [of] whether [or not] he did it because of various factors. It's still a step forward, and I hope it moves ahead.''

Duarte imposed economic austerity measures in January. Most believe they were necessary to pay for the war, which consumes close to 50 percent of the national budget. The measures have increased labor unrest and spurred calls on Duarte to renew the peace talks. ``Duarte's popularity is at low ebb,'' says the diplomat.

A recent public opinion poll showed that 80 percent of the respondents oppose the government's austerity measures, and only 24 percent said they would vote for the ruling party if new elections were held.

Peace was one of Duarte's main platforms in the 1984 presidential race. But immediately after the election, Duarte ignored rebel proposals for talks. Four months later, under pressure from the unions and the Roman Catholic Church, Duarte held the first round of peace talks. At La Palma, both sides agreed to meet regularly.

Many also see the US as being the main opponent to dialogue. ``Duarte's power is limited,'' says one Christian Democrat. The military and the right are still strong and we're under heavy pressure from the US. The US doesn't want a dialogue and wants negotiations even less. Duarte has formal power but there are other forces that have the real power.''

But US spokesmen say that it is the rebels who are the main obstacle to negotiations because of their hard line and lack of seriousness.

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