Optimism high as El Salvador, rebels plan talks

MEXICO CITY — MEXICO CITY -- The Salvadoran government and leftist rebels are to meet here April 4 through April 23 in what is being billed as the final diplomatic "endgame" to halt the 11-year-old civil war, a senior Nicara

guan government official said yesterday.


The official, interviewed by telephone, refused to be identified but said, "I think everyone is anxious for an agreement. I have never been more optimistic."

Salvador Samayoa, a member of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front's diplomatic commission here, refused to confirm the dates in an interview yesterday.


But Mr. Samayoa said, "It is becoming increasingly clear to both sides that we have the will to end the war. It is now possible."

His optimistic views have been echoed in recent days by senior members of the ruling right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance Arena), which lost its absolute majority in the National Assembly in elections earlier this month.

Arena, with two right-wing allied parties, will still control a majority of the 84-seat assembly, however. Left-wing parties won nine seats, their first gains in more than a decade.

The basis for the unprecedented 20 days of United Nations-sponsored talks is a rebel proposal for achieving a cease-fire, a restructuring of El Salvador's army and constitutional changes. The U.N. talks have been going on since May 1990 but have achieved little success in ending a war that has claimed more than 72,000 lives.

The rebels handed the government a copy of their proposal in a brief session with the government last Thursday in Mexico City.

The changes in the Salvadoran Constitution require the approval of two successive terms of the National Assembly.

Thus, the talks hope to present the constitutional changes to the current assembly, whose term expires April 30. The new assembly, taking office May 1, would then adopt them.

Failing agreement on the constitutional changes, Mr. Samayoa said the rebels would try to get the two assemblies to adopt a simpler ratification process. Otherwise, the constitutional changes could not be adopted until after the next legislative elections in 1994.


The rebels seek to change constitutional clauses that elevate the military as a co-equal branch of government and give it the right to judge the constitutionality of issues as "defender of the constitution." Other changes would place the police forces under civilian control and seek to strengthen the agrarian reform clauses now in abeyance.

As for the restructuring of the 56,000-man Salvadoran military, Mr. Samayoa said the rebels and military would set up a commission to review the records of military men to determine if they should remain.

The rebel leader said the FMLN would continue to press for trials for those involved in the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, the 1980 killing of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the 1989 killing of Hector Oqueli, a Salvadoran leftist murdered in Guatemala, and two mass murders in the early 1980s.