President Jose Napoleon Duarte said today he had sent rebel leaders a proposal for the date and place for their second peace talks, to be held this month.
Speaking to reporters here after attending a mass commemorating Our Lady of Peace, the patron of this provincial capital, Duarte declined to give any details about the coming talks, saying an announcement would be made later, presumably after the date and place have been communicated to the guerrilla leadership by Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, to whom the government proposal was given last night.
The archbishop, who had joined other Salvadoran prelates in celebrating the mass in the cathedral here, said later that "the date and place of the next meeting will be announced next Sunday" in the homily at the San Salvador cathedral.
The decision to go ahead with the next round of talks came after opposition to the talks from rightist politicians and some of their supporters in the Army had delayed the drafting of a proposal for the rebels, according to sources close to the government and the negotiations.
While senior government and church officials refused to acknowledge the internal debate over the talks that reportedly has been raging in the government for the past two weeks, knowledgeable sources who asked not to be identified said the issue was resolved Monday when Duarte met with the Army high command and other senior officers to discuss his plans.
According to several government sources, the meeting with the military was "positive" and Duarte again swung the military behind the continuation of the talks.
When Duarte held his first meeting with guerrilla leaders at the small northern town of La Palma Oct. 15, he also went to the military to explain his reasons for wanting to negotiate with the men they have been fighting for five years and to be told by them the limits of dialogue that they would accept.
At that time, military sources confirmed, the military agreed to support his proposal to open talks with the guerrillas as long as he made no agreement that would violate the country's new constitution. Specifically they insisted that there could be no discussion of a power-sharing arrangement with the guerrillas before new elections -- a key rebel demand in the past -- or any talk of incorporating the rebels into the Salvadoran armed forces if a peace accord was reached.
According to church sources, the continuation of the dialogue with the rebels had been called into question by some people in the Army and the political right because of the level of guerrilla violence in the contryside since the La Palma meeting and the death in a helicopter crash of one of the Army's most effective field commanders, Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa.
The death of Monterrosa, a key supporter of Duarte's dialogue proposal in the Army, angered many of his fellow officers and provided rightists with an excuse to try to stir up his many classmates in Army commands to oppose any further dialogue with the guerrillas who claimed to have shot down his helicopter.
One sign of the new right-wing opposition campaign emerged last week when threatening leaflets were circulated attacking the principal Salvadoran business organization, known as ANEP for its Spanish initials, for having supported the dialogue and having sent representatives to consultations about it held by the government.
Though ANEP has long been considered a bastion of right-wing thought in El Salvador, the leaflet referred to its leaders as "Judases" and "traitors to the fatherland."
In El Salvador where about 40,000 people have been killed in combat and political assassinations during the past five years, that kind of language normally is a threat of assassination.
ANEP immediately withdrew from consultations with the government and, early this week, issued a communique distancing itself -- without actually breaking away from -- the continuing dialogue with the rebels.
On another level, the morning newspaper Diario de Hoy, whose owners are closely linked with the country's wealthy coffee growers, began a harsh editorial campaign attacking dialogue with the rebels of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front as tantamount to selling out the country to communism.In the end, the armed forces' high command led by Defense Minister Gen. Eugenio Vides Casanova and chief-of-staff Col. Adolfo Blandon, whom Duarte has cultivated since taking office in June, continued to support Duarte, the sources said. The meeting Monday seems to have confirmed that they were still able to swing the lower-ranking officers behind them, thus clearing the way for talks with the guerrillas to continue, at least for the moment.