SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Gen. Colin Powell's statements about a Persian Gulf-style solution to El Salvador's civil war caused a controversy in the country Tuesday.
Calling the statements by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 'a senseless, militaristic threat,' rebel commander Salvador Guerra said, 'This is not the Persian Gulf. Here we have a civil struggle, an internal conflict in El Salvador between two forces.'
Guerra, who is particpating in peace talks in Mexico City between the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, made the statements in an telephone interview on San Salvador radio station YSU.
Powell ended a two-day swing through Central America on Monday with a news conference in Honduras, where he held out the possibility of a Persian Gulf-style solution to El Salvador's civil war if the year-old peace negotiations do not bear fruit.
Asked about a Persian Gulf-style solution, Powell spoke at length about political, as opposed to military, solutions being the model for dealing with modern conflicts.
'But at the same time,' he added, 'if it becomes necessary to defend freedom, then one must do it.'
El Salvador's major right-wing daily newpaper, Diario de Hoy, published a huge front-page headline saying, 'Powell Suggests Intervention in El Salvador.'
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Pamela Cory Archer said the headline was 'extremely misleading.' Another embassy official said Powell's statement was misinterpreted by the Spanish-language media, and was 'a far cry from explicit endorsement' of sending U.S. soldiers to El Salvador, where some 75,000 people have died in the war or related political violence.
The United States has been a major player in El Salvador's civil war, providing government forces with guns, ammunition, helicopters, airplanes, intelligence information and training.
Since the war began in 1980, the United States has financed the Salvadoran military with about $1 billion in military aid. The United States also has provided $3 billion in economic aid, part of which was funneled into counterinsurgency programs aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Salvadoran peasants through public works projects.
A permanent contingent of 50 U.S. military advisers help Salvadoran officers run the war.
Both Powell and rebel commander Guerra said they hoped the current round of peace talks will bring a prompt cease-fire. But combat intensified in the Salvadoran countryside despite the negotiations.
The Armed Forces Press Committee and the Salvadoran Red Cross reported 29 people killed in fighting Monday and early Tuesday, including three civilians. The army press office said a civilian and a soldier were killed Monday afternoon in a three-hour rebel attack on the town of Quezaltepeque, 11 miles northwest of San Salvador.
Combat also was reportedd Monday around the town of Jucuaran, 71 miles southeast of the capital, and scattered fighting continued there Tuesday morning, military sources said.