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Salvadoran Rebels Report Talks with U.S. Ambassador on Rebel Turf

September 13, 1991

CERRO DE GUAZAPA, El Salvador (AP) _ Rebel leaders said Thursday that U.S. Ambassador William Walker met them in a guerrilla-controlled town to discuss their plan to rebuild parts of the country once the 11-year-old civil war ends.

The embassy acknowledged that Walker went to the area, but would not confirm he met with guerrillas. Walker could not be reached for comment.

It was the first trip by a U.S. ambassador to the rebel-controlled northern region.

Rebels said Walker and rebel chief Raul Hercules met Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 in Santa Marta in Cabanas province, 60 miles northeast of San Salvador, capital of this Central American land of about 5.2 million people.

Hercules is a senior official of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, and a member of the cease-fire commission negotiating with the U.S.-backed rightist government of President Alfredo Cristiani.

Rebel and government officials plan to meet Monday in New York at the invitation of U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who hopes to untie what he called the ″Gordian knot″ that brought negotiations to a near- halt after 16 months.

Ramon Suarez and Dimas Rojas, members of the joint command of the Modesto Ramirez Central Front, an FMLN faction, said the two discussed guerrilla ideas for projects in a postwar El Salvador. The plans include rebuilding homes, schools, health clinics, roads and electric and water lines.

Hercules did not ask for U.S. aid, but a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as a military official, accompanied Walker, according to Suarez and Rojas.

″The meeting was a bit clandestine. It is important that he was interested ... he was optimistic,″ Rojas said.

He and Suarez spoke near the Cerro de Guazapa, a rebel mountain stronghold 15 miles north of San Salvador.

Suarez said the purpose of Walker’s visit was ″studying our thinking and our political project.″

More than 75,000 people, mainly civilians, have died in El Salvador’s civil war.

Another rebel negotiator, Salvador Samayoa, said Thursday the only path to peace in Salvador is a role for leftist guerrillas in the armed forces and police.

″This problem has been there from the very beginning of the talks,″ he told reporters at a briefing in Mexico City.

He said it lay at the heart of the five-point proposal the FMLN will put on the table in New York.

Cristiani calls the idea of FMLN participation in the armed forces ″absurd.″ He also told reporters he will not talk directly to rebel leaders in New York - ″This isn’t a meeting with members of the FMLN. It’s exclusively with the secretary-general of the United Nations.″

Samayoa said rebel negotiators are optimistic despite the government’s ″rigid″ position and hope for agreement on an agenda that would move the talks forward.

Samayoa said it would be hard to persuade rank-and-file fighters to put down their guns and give up territory and power on the strength of a government promise that security forces would behave themselves.

FMLN leaders say the military now is an armed band of rightists who regard combating the government’s ″internal enemies″ as their primary mission.

Samayoa said Thursday the armed forces must also be purged of human rights violators and eventually reduced in size.

Update hourly