Salvadoran rebels, government debate reforms on brink of war's formal end

SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR — SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Forty-eight hours before the formal end to El Salvador's civil war, leftist guerrillas, government officials and mediators were locked in intense negotiations yesterday over important political reforms, including long-term security for former rebel fighters.

The brinkmanship comes even as Vice President Dan Quayle and other regional leaders prepare to attend tomorrow's ceremony in San Salvador marking the conclusion of 12 years of war between rebels and U.S.-backed forces.


Leaders of the guerrilla Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, say that the disarming of their final core group of fighters hinges on whether pending reforms are completed. Some of the best fighters are said to be resisting giving up their weapons.

"We know that [the final settlement] can't be 100 percent chemically pure," said guerrilla negotiator Roberto Canas. "But we want to be assured that there isn't a possibility of going backward."


Many terms of a United Nations-brokered peace treaty signed in January have been fulfilled. Guerrillas began destroying their weapons this month, while the government dismantled a notorious army battalion. But other key points, such as land distribution, remain unresolved or incomplete, fueling mistrust and last-minute uncertainty.

By formally ending the war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, tomorrow's ceremony is supposed to recognize that a cease-fire in force since Feb. 1 has held and that the "armed peace" is giving way to a period of national reconciliation.

Both sides long ago conceded that not every element of the peace accords would be completed by the Dec. 15 deadline, but each wanted proof that reforms and demilitarization were under way.

The guerrillas are seeking guarantees that they will receive the land they have been promised under the accords; that neither the army nor a newly formed police force will be allowed to harass former rebels or their families who settle in what were once war zones; and that electoral reforms are written into law.

Regarding electoral reform, the national Legislative Assembly debated a law yesterday that would help to usher the guerrilla front into its new role as a political party.

A potentially serious point of contention involves part of the most militarily successful guerrilla faction, the People's Revolutionary Army. Some of its fighters are said to be resisting disarming and have sought assurances from the United States.

At the request of guerrilla leadership, U.S. Charge d'Affaires Peter Romero, the ranking U.S. diplomat here, held a four-hour meeting with 35 rebel field commanders from this faction. Mr. Romero said he reassured them that U.S. aid to El Salvador is tied to compliance by both sides with the peace accords.