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CRISTIANI SAYS PACT COULD END CIVIL WAR SOON

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President Alfredo Cristiani said an agreement reached in Geneva between Salvadoran rebels and the government could bring an end to a decade of bloody civil war within six months.

"I am really optimistic," Cristiani told reporters at a news conference Wednesday. "I think conditions for the peace process are a lot better than they have been."Government and rebel negotiators agreed to begin direct peace talks in early May, U.N. mediator Alvaro de Soto announced in Geneva.

"If everything goes well and the (rebels) are willing, I do not see why it should take more than six months to resolve this problem," Cristiani said.

Cristiani said no date or place has been set for the first meeting between representatives of his government and members of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, but added it could be this month.