Salvadoran Pact Brings Cautious Optimism About Ending Civil War
SAN SALVADOR — SALVADORAN President Alfredo Cristiani returned home to a standing ovation from a gathering that included members of the Cabinet and high-ranking military officers after presenting to them last week's accord signed by his government and leftist rebels.It was a show of support at the highest level for the president whose negotiating team signed the accord with rebel leaders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in New York on Wednesday. The applause was probably aimed, in part, to publicly quash rumors of dissent among party leadership and the military, analysts say. The agreement produced after 10 days of meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar sets up a commission to see that promises made at the negotiating table are fulfilled and lays out the framework for a final stage of negotiations to reach a cease-fire in El Salvador's 11-year civil war. Those discussions will include the reduction of the military and purging its ranks of officers who have abused their authority, the creation of a police force independent of the Armed Forces, and some social and economic issues. Yet some diplomats and analysts warn that within the new framework agreement are some of the same issues the warring factions have been discussing since the talks began a year and a half ago. Sources close to the talks say progress has been made on those topics. But other themes, such as the nature of the cease-fire itself, the possibility for a post-war amnesty and demobilization of the FMLN, are not mentioned in the New York accord. Although the government has accepted that the Armed Forces would be trimmed after the war, it is not clear how flexible the government can be on the issue. "We will have to see with how much willingness and flexibility ... the Armed Forces accepts the implementation of those accords," says Antonio Canas, a political analyst. Although the main blockage holding up the peace talks has been removed, Mr. Canas says other problems could arise before next month's talks. "Various other knots could get in the way between now and a month's time." Differences in the interpretation of some of the agreements have already arisen. Comments from some rebel leaders leaving the New York meeting that members of the FMLN would be able to participate in the new Civil Police Force prompted strong reactions in El Salvador. Former Army Maj. Roberto D'Aubuission, the founder and guiding force in the ruling ARENA Party, said categorically the FMLN was "not going to participate in the National Civil Police." The vice-minister of the presidency, Ernesto Altschul, explained that after an amnesty any former FMLN fighters would be able to join the police as cadets. Mr. Cristiani confirmed that anyone wanting to follow a police career as an individual would be able to join the police academy without discrimination on grounds of ideology. "If ex-combatants would like to do so, well, that's OK," Cristiani said. Another problem was in the meaning of the "dissolution of the National Guard and the Treasury police." Cristiani said the two police forces, currently run by the Armed Forces high command, "would stop having public order and public security responsibilities." He said the forces would not be automatically dissolved. Government and opposition leaders say the agreement's main achievement is to speed up the process that will bring about a cease-fire. "They speeded up the whole process of negotiations," says opposition leader Ruben Zamora. "It's as if you were travelling from here to New York by car and suddenly you put the car aside and took the plane." It was not immediately clear what implications for the peace process, if any, would evolve from a highly charged murder trial of Army soldiers. A five-person Salvadoran jury found Army Col. Guillermo Benavides guilty Saturday of murdering six Jesuit priests and two women in November 1989. An Army lieutenant was found guilty of one of the murders, while seven other members of the armed forces accused of the slayings were found innocent. The two convicted officers each face a maximum of 30 years in prison. The case marks the first conviction of a senior military officer in a human rights case in the country's history.