Central Americans find peace process slower than expected

Peacemaking is a slow process. That was the key message to emerge from two days of talks among Central America's foreign ministers that ended here Friday night. And even if they can keep their peace train on track, the chances it will come in on time look slim.

The ministers' most important move was to set up a sub-commission to look at the whole question of when the five Central American governments should take the steps they promised last month in Guatemala.

That group, to meet in early October, will debate ``the nature and character of simultaneity'' and ``the deadline by which the simultaneous commitments must be carried out,'' the ministers said in their final communiqu'e.

That seemed a step back from the Aug. 7 Guatemala treaty's blunt pledge that all moves would be made simultaneously within 90 days, on Nov. 7th.

The initial timetable ``was much too optimistic,'' commented one diplomat at last week's meeting. ``The issues are too complex, and there is not enough time.''

The ministers devoted most of their two days of discussions to procedural matters, without deciding substantive questions, officials attending the meeting said.

Instead, they asked sub-commissions to work out just how to implement the treaty's provisions for amnesties, cease-fires, democratization, an end to outside aid for irregular forces, and preventing guerrillas from enjoying sanctuary in the region.

Postponing decisions on such crucial issues, diplomats at the meeting said, would mean inevitable delays in putting the peace pact into effect.

Time was also a problem for the International Verification Commission, which met alongside the foreign ministers. The commission, made up of the five Central American nations, the four Contadora countries (Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela), their support group (Argentina, Brazil, Peru, and Uruguay), the UN, and the Organization of American States ended its talks without deciding just how it will function, commission members said.

That, they added, was because they met for only one day. Proceedings were held up Thursday because Nicaragua was the only Central American country to send delegates. The failure of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to show up underlined important disagreements over who is to control the peace process, a non-Central American delegate said. The issue is critical, since it will decide who is to judge just what each country must do in order to comply with the treaty.

``Nicaragua is still doubtful about the rest of Central America, and prefers to trust in Contadora'' to judge its actions, a Central American diplomat said. ``That is intolerable, because it would mean Latin America is deciding Central America's fate, not Central America itself.''

But the Sandinistas are clearly concerned that the United States might seek to pressure its allies in the region into judging Managua more harshly than they might.

``The international commission has been caught in the crossfire between a nervous Nicaragua and an anxious Central America,'' a Costa Rican delegate said.

Meanwhile, Managua has turned down a suggestion by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias S'anchez, architect of the peace plan, that it should negotiate through Nicaragua's Miguel Cardinal Obando y Bravo with the contra rebels to arrange a cease-fire.

The Sandinistas have repeatedly insisted they will not talk to the contra leadership under any circumstances, and a senior official confirmed that stance Friday night.

``We are prepared to talk to the people sending the guns, the Reagan administration, or to the people firing them,'' he told reporters. ``But you can rule out talks with the contras' so called leadership.''

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