Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Guatemalan War Picks Up as Negotiations Stall Impasse Develops over Rebel Demands for Action on Rights Abuses. SEARCH FOR PEACE IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Guatemalan War Picks Up as Negotiations Stall Impasse Develops over Rebel Demands for Action on Rights Abuses. SEARCH FOR PEACE IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Article excerpt

WHILE the world looks to the possibility of a Christmas peace in El Salvador, talks between rebels and the goverment in Guatemala have reached a deadlock, appearing to dash hopes for a December peace here as well.

A clash over human rights issues has led to the first breakdown in negotiations since the dialogue between guerrilla leaders and Guatemalan generals began last April in Mexico.

Following government rejection of a series of rebel demands regarding international human rights monitors and government indemnity for victims of past violence, the dialogue has evolved into a series of bitter public exchanges laced with accusations of bad faith and inflexibility.

The impasse has appeared to breathe new life into the 31-year-old civil war: At least five soldiers were killed and dozens more injured in a battle Thursday in the province of Quiche, northwest of Guatemala City. Search for middle ground

The guerrillas have demonstrated a "total lack of creativity," said Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano Elias following a fifth round of talks late last month. The meetings will not continue, he said, until the two sides can bring their positions closer.

"I represent a legal, constitutional regime and I therefore cannot accept any illegal demands," Mr. Serrano said. "It's time the guerrillas understand that once and for all."

Guerrilla leaders, in a statement released shortly after Serrano's remarks, criticized the use of "legalistic pretexts to avoid substantive agreements" and "actions that would guarantee an end to impunity and full observance of human rights."

In this atmosphere, Bishop Rodolfo Quezada Toruno, who heads the National Reconciliation Commission (CNR) mediating the talks, and United Nations (UN) observer Francisc Vendrell have been shuttling between the two sides seeking concessions that would allow talks to continue.

Last Wednesday, Quezada, just back from a visit with guerrilla leaders in Mexico, said he may have found "middle ground" that he will present to both sides next week. When asked if the talks could resume by year end, he replied simply, m optimistic."

The Guatemalan civil war, Central America's longest-running, has left more than 100,000 people dead and 40,000 missing. The peace talks designed to end the war came to a standstill after an Oct. 22-24 Mexico City meeting, the fifth overall and the third focusing on human rights.

At the latest meeting, leaders from four rebel groups, organized under the umbrella of the Guatemalan United Revolutionary Front (URNG), demanded that a UN delegation be allowed to investigate rights abuses and that measures to reduce future violations be implemented immediately. The government delegation - administration officials and the chief of military intelligence - insisted that only after a peace agreement had been signed and the guerrillas had laid down their weapons could any such rights measures be implemented. …

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