A revised peace plan offered by Salvadoran guerrillas was described Wednesday by the Defense Ministry as part of a "sinister strategic plan of Marxism-Leninism," leaving only a faint hope for a negotiated end to El Salvador's nine-year civil war.
The military's negative statement was seconded by a senior government official who is a major figure in the ruling Christian Democratic Party. "The plan obviously is fatally flawed," he said.
The rejections came a day after leaders of El Salvador's 13 political parties met in Mexico with commanders of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, the umbrella organization for the five Salvadoran guerrilla groups.
Ending two days of talks in Mexico, the FMLN said it would accept the legitimacy of elections, negotiate a cease-fire and ultimately disband the 7,000-man guerrilla army.
In exchange, the guerrillas demanded postponement until July of presidential elections now scheduled for March 19, reorganization of the electoral process to guarantee free participation by the FMLN and its supporters, reduction of the army from 56,000 to 12,000--the level when the civil war began--reorganization of security forces and prosecution of military personnel for human rights violations.
The military and President Jose Napoleon Duarte have maintained since the FMLN first proposed last month that the elections be delayed that any postponement past March would be an unacceptable violation of the constitution.
That position, supported by the U.S. Embassy, deepened after the rebel proposals in Mexico for cutting the army and prosecuting military personnel for human rights abuses.
"While millions of Salvadorans clamor for peace and reject violence, death and destruction," said a Defense Ministry statement, "the FMLN, represented in Mexico by four terrorist leaders, is launching the sinister strategic plans of Marxism-Leninism in order to obtain power."
Even Hector Silva, a leader of the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of socialist and leftist parties backed by the FMLN and already taking part in the elections, said there is no chance of delaying the vote.
There is a slim chance, however, that the peace process can be kept alive. The representatives of the 13 parties who sent delegates to Mexico said they will recommend that the Duarte government and the army meet again with the FMLN leaders to discuss the rebel proposals.
The U.S.-backed government is unlikely to reject a call by more than a dozen political parties, including the ruling Christian Democrats, for talks because it does not want to take the blame for seeming to block peace efforts on the eve of elections.
As a European diplomat put it, "The game is to get the other side to make the final break and take the blame for restarting the killing."
He said the only hope is that further negotiations will develop a momentum of their own, with neither side wanting to appear at fault for a collapse of the peace effort.
The talks would be the first between the government and rebels since 1987--and the first to include the political parties. Duarte held three rounds of negotiations with the guerrillas in the last five years, but none were successful.
A European diplomat observing the talks said the U.S. response to the proposal will be the key.
"The only thing that could make the armed forces come around would be if Washington says, 'We want this,' " he said. "But that is difficult for them to do."
The rebels, while showing flexibility at the negotiating table, flexed their military muscle in El Salvador to show that they are not dealing out of weakness. In recent days they have stepped up attacks and sabotage, blacking out electricity Wednesday in 40% of the country, including nearly all of San Salvador.
"The logic of the war continues while we make efforts for a peaceful solution," rebel commander Francisco Jovel, known as Roberto Roca, said.
Freed reported from San Salvador and Miller from Mexico City.