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Salvadoran Sides Charge Each Other With Backtracking, Truce Set Back

June 1, 1991

CARAVALLEDA, Venezuela (AP) _ Salvadoran government and guerrilla negotiators blamed each other Saturday for a lack of progress at U.N.-mediated peace talks here. The stalemate virtually ruled out a prompt cease-fire.

The rebels charged that the government had hardened its stance by presenting more than 40 ″observations″ regarding a draft accord on reform of the powerful armed forces. Those amount to suggestions of changes in the draft document.

The main military representative on the government’s team accused the insurgents of ″ideological intoxication″ and of reneging on a commitment to expedite the search for a way to stop fighting.

The talks, at a luxury seaside hotel 20 miles northeast of Caracas, are the 17th round in the peace process that began under U.N. auspices in April 1990. This session is set to end Monday.

Both sides have stated their desire to achieve a cease-fire soon in the 11- year-old civil war, which has killed an estimated 75,000 people.

The last remaining major obstacle to a cease-fire is agreement on how to purge the military of flagrant abusers of human rights, how to ensure its subordination to civilian authority and how much it should be reduced in size for its peacetime role.

The two sides apparently remained far apart - perhaps farther apart than before this session - on the military reform issue.

Rebel negotiators returned in this round to their insistence that abolishing both the government and guerrilla armies is the only logical and just result of a deadlocked war.

″They want this to end with the unilateral demobilization and disarming of the FMLN, as if they had won the war,″ Schafik Handal, one of the five top commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, said an interview. ″But here there are neither victors nor vanquished.″

Rightist President Alfredo Cristiani and his high command have stated repeatedly that the army’s continued existence is not negotiable.

In El Salvador, Cristiani repeated the position Saturday in an address to congress on the second anniversary of his inauguration.

He said the army’s existence ″is not at stake″ in the negotiations. Its continuation as the country’s only armed force constitutes ″the most decisive barrier to the pretensions of groups that want to achieve power by violence,″ he said.

He blamed the guerrillas for the lack of an accord and assured far right sectors that oppose the negotiations that the peace process ″does not mean weakness or condescension.″

Opposition parties boycotted Cristiani’s address to protest the government’s conduct of the negotiations and its economic policy.

In interviews in Caracas, Col. Mauricio Vargas, the government’s main military negotiator, and Oscar Santamaria, the minister of the presidency and head of the government delegation, claimed that the apparent proximity of a cease-fire accord had created a backlash from more radical guerrilla sectors, obliging the top commanders to slow down the march toward peace.

″For political reasons, because of internal differences, the FMLN is not able to sign the cease-fire,″ said Vargas, subchief of the joint chiefs of staff.

Handal said conditions under which guerrilla leaders could operate in an eventual cease-fire were still a matter of heated debate. The rebels demand free mobility for unarmed guerrilla chiefs engaged in political activity.

Vargas said such freedom can only be granted once there is a definitive end to the conflict.

″The cease-fire period must be short and cannot be used to change the status quo, either politically or militarily,″ he said.

The rebels envision a longer cease-fire period that they refer to as a stage of ″armed peace″ in which accords are implemented and guerrillas can carry out political activities.

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