Army-government rift in Salvador limits peace process

The Army is dissatisfied with the government of President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte. And while diplomats and political analysts rule out a coup, they say the tensions between the Army and the government limit the government's freedom to negotiate with the leftist insurgents. Salvadorean peace talks will reopen this week in Mexico, mediator Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas said Friday after three days of talks ended in Caracas deadlocked over procedural details. The talks were aimed at arranging a cease-fire by the Nov. 7 deadline, as stipulated by the regional peace plan.

If a cease-fire is not agreed upon, President Duarte has said he will declare a unilateral cease-fire. Most diplomats are skeptical that such a cease-fire would last long. But they say this could provide Mr. Duarte with the opportunity to say that he had complied with the regional peace plan.

``There's a feeling within the Tandona [the military academy's 1966 graduating class that now holds most of Army's top command positions] that the government has made a mess of things,'' says one Western diplomat. ``That has many implications for the future - for a cease-fire, amnesty, and the return of [rebel political leader] Rub'en Zamora.''

These tensions became apparant when the Army High Command forced the military officer most closely identified with the ruling Christian Democrats - the head of the security forces, Col. Reynaldo L'opez Nuila - to submit his resignation following a tense meeting on Sept. 18.

Although Duarte has publicly stated he won't be pressured into making changes in the military, he has not yet made a final decision on whether to accept the colonel's resignation.

Political analysts say that Colonel L'opez Nuila has been left totally isolated within the military.

The showdown, say analysts, was sparked by L'opez Nuila's support for the government's attempt to prosecute Col. Elmer Gonz'alez Araujo for the February 1983 Las Hojas massacre, in which some 70 civilians were killed by troops under his command because of a land dispute. Las Hojas is a well-documented case of Army massacres. And it is one of the handful of cases Duarte has promised to prosecute.

The prosecution of Colonel Gonz'alez, the Western diplomat says, ``would create an awkward precedent for other colonels with question marks on their past. If the government prosecutes one, they fear it might open the floodgates.''

But political analysts say Army dissatisfaction goes far deeper than the issue of human rights prosecutions. They say the Army believes the government has failed to unify the country and create a political consensus. The military also believes the government has failed to gain the popularity necessary to help the Army in its counterinsurgency war, these analysts add.

``The Army's basic logic is that the more they're seen as organically linked to the government - whom everyone blames for the country's crisis - the more likely they will be to also lose support and the less likely to win the war,'' says a political analyst who monitors the military. ``Top officers privately admit that they think the government is on the wrong track.''

Diplomats and analysts say that the Army is deeply suspicious of the Central American peace plan. ``Basically they feel you can't negotiate with communists,'' the political analyst says.

The Army was extremely angered by the government's handling of the first round of dialogue under the peace plan that took place Oct. 4 in the capital.

In the past, the Army has opposed dialogue because it sees negotiations as legitimizing the rebels.

One diplomat says that many in the Army are angered at L'opez Nuila because they see his support for the prosecution of human rights violaters as hypocritical. ``He has a past and it's rather heavy,'' says one European diplomat.

Before heading the security forces, L'opez Nuila headed the National Police during the height of death-squad killings. One of the most active death squads operated out of the intelligence section of the National Police.

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