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Salvadorans Reluctant to Get Hopes Up Over Peace

November 16, 1991

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Salvadorans, stoic and more than a little fatalistic after 12 years of civil war, are reluctant to entertain the vision of peace conjured by an insurgent cease-fire, for fear their hopes will be shattered.

Almost without fail, Salvadorans reacted to the unilateral rebel truce that began Saturday with the word ″Ojala″ - an expression meaning something between ″Would that it be so 3/8″ and ″God willing 3/8″

As often as not, their next words were skeptical or reserved.

Asked about prospects for a prompt peace, bus driver Carlos Martinez said, ″That would be beautiful. So that our children might grow up without so much violence. But I doubt it will come about.″

He expressed the common belief that the war has become ″a business″ for sectors of the armed forces loath to see it end.

Joaquin Ramos, a battered straw cowboy hat on his head and leather thong sandals on his worn feet, commented outside his humble home in rural Cuscatlan province in the heart of El Salvador.

″I have hope,″ said Ramos, whose four sons have died fighting in the leftist rebel army.

Yet his optimism was tempered by what he’d seen Friday.

Government forces, taking advantage of the rebel truce and the insurgents’ partial retreat to camps higher on Guazapa mountain’s slopes, were pouring into the zone traditionally dominated by the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN.

″This is aggression. Then they’ll say the FMLN violated the truce,″ said Ramos.

Still, the cease-fire appeared to be holding. Armed forces spokesmen said there were no reports of combat after midnight Friday, when the guerrilla truce took effect.

The insurgents said they would ″make every effort″ to ensure that the truce held until a formal peace treaty was drafted. But they said they could change their attitude ″in the event of substantial alterations ... that tend to modify the balance of forces.″

President Alfredo Cristiani welcomed the guerrilla initiative when it was announced Thursday. He said if the rebels complied, the army could take ″corresponding″ measures to reduce the likelihood of clashes.

Still, Salvadorans saw attempts to negotiate solutions to the war founder in 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1989 amid recriminations. The leftist revolution against a series of U.S.-backed governments has killed an estimated 75,000 people.

Though the current U.N.-mediated peace talks have been by far the most fruitful, there is a deep-rooted reluctance to allow hopes to rise too high.

Before a final peace can be signed, a few issues remain to be resolved, including reform and reduction of the traditionally abusive and inordinately powerful armed forces, and formation of a new, civilian-controlled national police force.

Even military officers are sick of the conflict.

Jose Granados, a 2nd lieutenant, interviewed as he led a patrol Friday in rural Cuscatlan, said: ″I hope this is the end of the war, so that one might dedicate oneself to something else.″

He said the troops ″just want it to end, and to get out of it in one piece.″

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