The World this Week: Truth time for the generals in El Salvador

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Alfredo Cristiani of El Salvador faces the moment of truth when a report detailing his country's human rights atrocities since 1980 is handed over in New York today. El Salvador's generals, unused to being on the defensive, are furious that they may be named in the report drawn up by the UN-sponsored Truth Commission. The United States has already given Mr Cristiani one week to purge 15 officers. The Minister of Defence, General Rene Emilio Ponce, resigned on Friday.

Mr Cristiani and the army opposed the report's publication and wanted to keep secret the identities of those responsible for killing thousands of Salvadoreans, including Archbishop Oscar Romero, arguing that the revelations would be misused by 'extremist elements'.

The UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, instructed Mr Cristiani to get rid of all the generals implicated in atrocities: 'Salvadoreans will only put the past behind them when the truth has been brought to light,' he said. But the promised purge never happened.

Mr Cristiani says that, if names are named today, he cannot answer for the safety of the victims and witnesses who gave evidence to the commission. Many Salvadoreans interpret this as a veiled threat that the military will mount a backlash - and they fear that the death squads may roam the streets once more.

Co-operation instead of discord will be the watchword among foreign ministers of Baltic Sea states when they meet in Helsinki tomorrow and Wednesday. They want to revive ancient trading and cultural links interrupted by the Cold War. Those represented will be Russia, Poland, the three Baltic republics, the Nordic countries and Germany. They plan to strengthen economic and technological links and help each other with nuclear and radiation safety.

But they are short of funds, and ideas are expected to be thicker on the ground than calls for action. Ministers may also step delicately round the thorny problem of national minorities, something the Baltic republics feel especially touchy about.

It is St Patrick's Day on Wednesday, and to mark the event the Irish Prime Minister, Albert Reynolds, visits President Bill Clinton in Washington. But the meeting may be something more than the usual annual Irish-American get-together: Mr Clinton is expected to announce the appointment of an ambassador to Dublin and may name Jean Kennedy Smith, the mother of William Kennedy Smith and sister of JFK, for the post. The Irish Gay and Lesbian Organisation plans to join New York's St Patrick's Day parade on Wednesday for the first time in its own right.

Poor Romania. Shaken by an earthquake, cut off by snow drifts and hit by an economic austerity programme, the minority government of Ion Iliescu faces a vote of no-confidence on Friday. The presidential spokesman seemed pretty cool about it, though, or perhaps he was just punch drunk. 'We witness a parliamentary democracy exercise which will no doubt lead to the consolidation of the democratic process,' he intoned.

The opposition want clearer and swifter privatisation measures. The ruling National Salvation Front thinks it will survive, however, thanks to support from two ultra-right and anti-Semitic nationalist parties and from the minority Communists.

Nasa says it has shaken off the problems that have dogged the US space shuttle Columbia for a month, and the shuttle should take off from Cape Canaveral on Sunday for a scientific research mission chartered by Germany.

The Pope, hardly a slouch when it comes to publicity, is to hit the television screens in pursuit of more exposure. Italy's RAI-2 channel shows the first of 20 three-minute broadcasts before lunch today. The Pope's 'Reflections' will be drawn from hours of prayers and homilies filmed by the Vatican during his parish visits and foreign trips.

Coinciding with the Papal debut, Japan's biggest fertility festival takes place at the Tagata Shrine in Komake City today. A giant wooden phallus is carried by a dozen men on a float upon which young girls sometimes hitch a ride. What would the Pope make of that?