As the Christian Democratic government and the leftist rebels approach a third round of talks to end the six-year-old civil war, this village is already celebrating the first anniversary of a successful separate peace.
One year ago, Roman Catholic Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez picked his way through a tangle of weeds, broken bricks and downed electrical wires in the abandoned streets of Tenancingo, north of San Salvador, to ask in a mass that the Army and the guerrillas stay away from the village so that the church could rebuild it.
Last Friday, Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, leader of El Salvador's Catholics, came to offer another mass for Tenancingo's patron, Saint James, whose figure was reinstalled in the church, and for 100 families now back home in their village.
The reconstruction of Tenancingo is a unique example of grass-roots Salvadorans settling their conflicts, church leaders and directors of the project said.
This achievement emerged as both the government's 53,000-member armed forces, and an estimated 6,000 guerrillas of Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, are escalating their efforts to gain peace by forcing the other side to admit defeat.
Rivera y Damas said Sunday he would announce Aug. 6 the date and location of the third round of the peace dialogue, suspended since an unsuccessful meeting at the village of Ayagualo in November 1984.
Officials under President Jose Napoleon Duarte, rebel leaders and Rivera y Damas have said in recent days that they see no prospect for substantive accords from the talks. Duarte is pressing the rebels to lay down their arms to join in party politics, while the rebel front insists on negotiating for a share of power in a transition government.
"It's a guaranteed flop," commented one official. But Rivera y Damas expressed hope that the two sides could hammer out some agreements to improve treatment of civilians and prisoners in the war.
But here in Tenancingo, Rivera y Damas said, both sides had respected "an unwritten understanding" not to put permanent outposts in the village. "That is the sign of hope," he said.
Guerrillas often lounge in the main square, residents said, but hold no organized activities.
"This place is neutral," said resident Armando Rosales. "No one touches us."
But top military commanders do not recognize any special neutrality for Tenancingo. During the archbishop's mass, a 150-member Army patrol marched conspicuously along the edge of town.
"We don't leave any troops there because we don't need to," said Chief of Staff Gen. Adolfo O. Blandon at a press conference Monday in San Salvador.
Salvadoran commanders "bite their lip when they talk about Tenancingo," one high-ranking officer said. "They are keeping hands off out of respect for the church."
At least a third of the homes of more than 2,500 inhabitants of Tenancingo were shattered by bombs dropped by the Salvadoran Air Force in a Sept. 25, 1983, battle, and more than 100 civilians were killed. The town's inhabitants fled to nearby towns and the capital.
The resettlement began when village leaders, weary of being refugees, approached the church to ask for help to go home.
Since the first families straggled back in January, there has been only one war death.
A representative of the Salvadoran Foundation for Development and Basic Housing, a private nonprofit group running the project for the church, said residents are committed to stay even if new fighting breaks out nearby.
Aided by grants worth $1.9 million from West European countries and Christian relief organizations, villagers received credits to repair 70 houses, reopen small stores, buy cattle and plant about 150 acres of corn and beans. No U.S. government funds are involved.
Project directors said they fear U.S. money could bring back to the village many of the old local tensions which, multiplied nationwide, erupted into civil war in 1980.
Equal access to credit is leveling distinctions between the poorest villagers, the first to return, and slightly better off farmers now trickling back, who before were treated as gentry.
Church and project leaders said they fear the government will discourage or take over other independent town reconstruction projects.
Blandon, announcing details of a nationwide plan to coordinate Army antiguerrilla sweeps with civilian reconstruction projects, cited Tenancingo as "an example of what you can achieve in an orderly and responsible way."
The nationwide plan, known as "United for Reconstruction," is funded by $8 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. officials said.
Key to the plan is the Army's effort to draw in private businesses, unions and the church as well as eight civilian ministries to rebuild rural towns after the Army has cleared them of guerrilla units.
The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front has charged that the plan is stepping up military pressure and damaging the atmosphere before the peace talks.