MEXICO CITY -- The Salvadoran rebels and the government of President Alfredo Cristiani agreed yesterday to attend United Nations-sponsored peace talks in New York Sept. 16 and 17.
The move is a last-ditch effort to salvage the 16-month peace process, which has reached an impasse over a rebel demand that the military forces of both sides be joined.
Ernesto Altschul, vice minister of the presidency, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Cristiani would travel to New York on Sept. 16 for talks the next day with U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
But, Mr. Altschul said, the president would refuse to meet with the leaders of the Faribundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) unless they give up their demand for a united military.
The rebels, who had dropped that demand, reinstated it after talks began to bog down earlier this summer over rebel proposals for reorganizing the army and for security guarantees that would permit the FMLN to enter politics with an aim toward the 1994 presidential elections.
In its communique here yesterday, the FMLN stated that "it is necessary to deal with the key problem of the military forces of both sides."
It was not clear if that meant that the rebels would drop their joint military proposal. The leaders of the FMLN's five guerrilla groups were meeting yesterday in Managua, Nicaragua, and could not be reached for comment.
With the talks at an impasse, the United States and the Soviet Union sent a letter this month to Mr. Perez de Cuellar, urging him to take a direct role.
The talks are aimed at establishing a cease-fire and ultimately an end to an 11-year-old civil war that has claimed more than 72,000 lives.