EL SALVADOR'S attempt to replace 12 years of civil war with lasting reconciliation retains its momentum despite lingering disagreements. So far, it has provided a heartening example of how a nation at the point of self-destruction can reverse course and begin rebuilding.
The formal end of hostilities was declared Dec. 15 by United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali with the words: "Armed conflict in El Salvador has come to an end."
But much remains to be done to replace the bitterness of civil conflict with good will and trust between Salvadorans. The two cardinal indications of such trust are on the rebels' side, the transformation of the militant, 8,000-member Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) into a legal political party; and on the side of President Alfredo Cristiani, the promised purging of some 110 officers in the Salvadoran Army.
The UN secretary-general warned President Cristiani on Jan. 1 that he apparently had missed the agreed-upon deadline for dismissing the officers. But a United States State Department official and another Western diplomat in El Salvador said they saw it as a short delay that would be rectified.
The Cristiani government issued a statement Jan. 4 saying that the purge had been ordered. It did not, however, indicate the number of officers affected or provide names.
It was apparent earlier that Cristiani was having some difficulty cutting short the military careers of the officers. The president was having particular difficulty dismissing Gen. Rene Emilio Ponce, the Salvadoran defense minister.
The US continues to play a key role in the peace process. Vice President Dan Quayle was in El Salvador for the formal observance, Dec. 1, of the end of hostilities and "said all the right things," according to one observer.
After 12 years of internecine conflict, Salvadorans are determined to win the peace they desperately need.