By David Clark Scott, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
EVEN as final results in El Salvador's March 10 legislative election were being released Friday, both sides in the country's 11-year civil war were talking of a cease-fire, possibly by May 30.
The strong showing by leftist parties, participating in elections for the first time in a decade, coupled with a small drop in support for the ruling conservative National Republican Alliance (ARENA) Party could help United Nations-sponsored peace talks, analysts say.
Indeed, Joaquin Villalobos, the leader of the Farabundo Mart146 National Liberation Front (FMLN) rebels, last week proposed a cease-fire by the end of May. Until now, the leftist rebels have insisted that reform of the Army, the Constitution, and the country's judicial system were prerequisites to a cease-fire.
FMLN leaders made the proposal in Nicaragua last week at a meeting between Central American and European Community foreign ministers. The plan calls for talks focused on restructuring the Army and constitutional reforms, as well as terms for a cease-fire. The FMLN wants constitutional reforms (which would be the basis for reforming security forces and the judicial system) passed by April 30, when the term for members of this Legislative Assembly ends.
Salvadoran Vice President Francisco Merino Lopez described the cease-fire proposal as a potentially "substantial advance" in the peace process. And UN negotiator Alvaro de Soto, breaking a silence on dates for a settlement, said a cease-fire in April was possible.
But a European diplomat in El Salvador warns that agreeing on constitutional reforms and pushing it through the Assembly by April 30 will be "difficult." Optimism over negotiations has been shattered many times by resurging conflict on the battlefield, he says.
Still, the pending arrival of leftist politicians in the Assembly could prompt ARENA to push reforms through while it still has an outright legislative majority.
Contrary to election projections, ARENA lost its majority. …