It seemed in 1992 that it was time to close the books on El Salvador. A peace accord was signed, ending 12 years of war. U.N. observers sawed the barrels off guerrilla guns. The army pledged reform. Gingerly, leftists tried something that had gotten them killed in the past - above-ground campaigning, aimed at changing the system peaceably in what Salvadorans are calling the ''Elections of the Century." They are set for March.
But conflicts rarely end so tidily. And though Washington breathed a sigh of relief that, unlike Haiti and Bosnia, El Salvador was "over," it was not. Nor is it today. Indeed, there are ominous signs that instead of joining the battle at the ballot box, the country's ultra-rightists are again unleashing the death squads that - in league with the military - once murdered activists, priests, even an archbishop, with impunity.