Salvador Rancor Lingers As Peace Talks Shift to UN
SAN SALVADOR — AS talks to end El Salvador's 12-year civil war return to New York from Mexico, negotiators are still holding to the prospect of a cease-fire before the end of the year."We're not going to New York as tourists or to do Christmas shopping, but to look for the signing of an accord which would end the war," rebel leader Roberto Canas said in Mexico, according to the German news service DPA. "It [the New York meeting] can't end without an accord." Salvadoran government negotiator Oscar Santamaria also expressed optimism about the talks, set to resume Monday at the United Nations headquarters. "In El Salvador there is a desire that the confrontation end before the end of the year, and this could be reached with a large quota of political will from the two sides," he said, according to DPA. But despite such official expectations, recent events in El Salvador show that the rancor of the war is still very much alive. On Sunday, the Army and right-wing groups organized a massive march in San Salvador. Organizers said the march, which brought tens of thousands of Army supporters onto the streets, was to "search for the reconciliation of the Salvadoran people." But the rank and file of the march expressed few reconciliatory feelings. Asked how to overcome the problems of incorporating the rebels into Salvadoran political life, several men answered: "To end the rabies, you've got to kill the dog." Marchers screamed insults at several hundred left-wing demonstrators whom riot police stopped from joining the march. "It is an expression of polarization, of the division of the civilian society," said the Rev. Edgar Palacios, who led the opposition gathering. The centrist Christian Democratic Party (PDC) declined an offer to join the march. "[The Army] did not want the majority of the center and leftist movements and parties of this country to participate," says Gerardo Le Chevallier, a PDC member of El Salvador's parliament. According to both the government and the rebels, fighting has diminished since the unilateral cease-fire declared by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in November. But the Army has continued to mount operations in areas of the country dominated by the guerrillas. Army spokesman Lt. Col. Baltazar Lopez says the armed forces are "just trying to keep the people safe from the FMLN." But Candelario Landaverde, a community leader near the Guazapa volcano - an area normally occupied by the FMLN - says farmers dare not go to work in the fields when the Army is near. In recent months, President Alfredo Cristiani has been under pressure from a right-wing campaign in newspapers and advertisements against the accords signed with the rebels at a breakthrough meeting in New York in September. These accords include an agreement in principle to purge the Army officer corps, remove the armed forces from police work, and set up a civilian police force to include some former rebel combatants. All parties to the talks say discussions on these issues are not complete. The proximity of a cease-fire depends on how long it takes to polish these points, which could take until next year. But the imminent departure of UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who steps down at the end of the year, has given a sense of urgency to the talks, analysts say. Hard-line Vice President Francisco Merino says Mr. Perez de Cuellar should not be "forcing the process along" to achieve a cease-fire before the end of his term of office. Despite right-wing resistance and mixed signals emanating from both negotiating teams, sources close to the talks say direct pressure on both sides from Perez de Cuellar in New York could swing the balance toward a cease-fire. "Everything tends to indicate that we are in the final chapters," says one diplomat.