United Nations observer teams have played useful roles in the resolution of disputes that normally are international in character. There would be a strong potential for usefulness, however, in a U.N. presence to monitor human rights in the purely internal turmoil of El Salvador.
Right-wing and left-wing assassins are the peril to any agreement that might be reached by the talks now taking place in Mexico City. The suggestion by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar for a human-rights-monitoring team, in a speech to the Security Council marking the first anniversary of U.N. attempts to mediate the dispute, was part of a growing wave of optimism attending those efforts. Spain has already offered troops for such a role.
Signs of new flexibility were detected as leaders of the right-wing government of Alfredo Cristiani, the largely autonomous army and the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) met with U.N. bureaucrats in Mexico City. The FMLN seemed to recognize the need for a cease-fire as a precondition for agreement on reforms. The government talked about seeking a consensus.
The civil war has raged for 11 years and taken 75,000 lives. This is the tenth round of talks in a year. Both sides have ill-served their suffering people. There is a need for the rebels to stop fighting. There is equally a need for the army of 57,000 to slim down and purge itself of death- and torture-squads. No trust exists. But if there is a genuine will to forge a coexistence and bring peace to the suffering Salvadoran people, a U.N. observer team could be trusted to monitor an agreement.
The cold war between the Soviet Union and the United States is over. There is no reason for warring factions in El Salvador to carry on as though they were surrogates for superpower champions that in fact want the conflict ended. The two sides need to reach agreement on reducing the armed forces, reforming the constitution and a cease-fire. This round of talks is expected to last three weeks, and is given a chance to bring results. International pressure is finally having a salutary effect.