Peace talks between El Salvador's rebels and government ended early yesterday with modest results. Both sides agreed to form a commission to help bring about a cease-fire, as required by the Aug. 7 Central American peace accord signed by five regional leaders.
But the rebels and President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's government left the two-day meeting acknowledging that their differences were substantial.
``Our positions and those of the government are very different,'' guerrilla commander Shafik Handal told cheering rebel sympathizers, camped outside the site of the talks since they began Sunday afternoon.
Mr. Handal, head of the Salvadorean Communist Party, said the two sides' conceptions of a cease-fire were very different. ``For us it's to find a solution that attacks the principal causes of the conflict.'' According to the rebels the ``causes'' to be addressed include: economic reforms, human rights, and United States involvement in Salvadorean affairs.
Mr. Duarte says he has made significant changes, but the rebels are living in the past, unwilling to recognize the improvements. ``They believe nothing has changed,'' he said after the talks. ``The social structure of the country has changed, ... there no longer exists a dominant oligarchic force.'' In a statement, Duarte also said if the cease-fire commission fails to bring both sides into agreement, he will ``assume a historic challenge'' and ask his armed forces to declare a unilateral cease-fire.
The government-rebel agreement also requires that a second commission, also having four rebel and four government members, be set up to deal with other aspects of the Central American peace plan. The cease-fire commission has until Nov. 4 to present its first report - a timetable that coincides with the regional plan's requirements.
The talks, held at the residence of the papal nuncio here, marked the first time since 1984 that the two sides had met officially. Guillermo Ungo, a leader of the insurgent delegation, said the results of these talks have been ``sufficient to assure the continuity of the dialogue. ``
While saying they were willing to seek a political solution, rebel leaders also say they are ready to continue fighting as long as necessary. ``Given the crisis and the social confrontation, people have the right to take up arms,'' said guerrilla commander Leonel Gonz'alez.
As the talks were taking place, labor and student groups sympathetic to the rebels displayed their own show of strength a block away. The ruling Christian Democratic Party had erected a large stage and sound system for a ``Festival for Peace'' to be held Saturday and Sunday nights. But the opposition groups, grouped in the leftist National Unity of Salvadorean Workers (UNTS) moblizied thousands of supporters and occupied the site as the government's sparsely attended show was just starting. Soon the UNTS erected a stage and sound system larger than the government's.
Sunday morning there was a tense confrontation when several hundred Christian Democratic supporters tried to enter the field. Bused-in peasants, who had been given white sunshades saying ``Duarte Wants Peace'' were heckled by protesters.
This was the first time since massive repression of leftists in the early 1980s that pro-rebel sentiments have been so openly and widely expressed. Groups sang revolutionary songs, and posters of Farabundo Mart'i, executed leader of a failed 1932 peasant uprising, plastered the exclusive Escalon district.
Some Christian Democrats privately admit the left outmaneuvered them. ``They won,'' a party official says. ``They became the political presence outside the dialogue. They were able to beat us in terms of the support they could turn out.''
Different sources say the Army was angry the Christian Democrats hadn't been able to organize more effectively. They also say the refusal of the business organizations and opposition parties to accompany Duarte to the talks weakened his position.