The Bush administration decision this week to release $42.5 million in previously frozen military aid funds to the government of El Salvador may only encourage continuation of that nation's bloody, decade-old civil war. Yet the reason for freezing those funds in the first place - gruesome civil rights violations - should not be so easily forgotten.

The recent downing of a U.S. helicopter and the resultant death of its three crewmen at the hands of anti-government rebels appears to be only a pretext for the release of funds, and not a very good one.Neither side in the conflict, which has taken an estimated 73,000 lives in the past 10 years, can lay a claim to the moral high ground when it comes to human rights.

Both the rebels and the El Salvadoran government stand accused of atrocities against not only opposing military forces but also innocent civilians.

The military and incumbent conservative government are repeatedly accused of harboring and encouraging right-wing death squads that hunt down and summarily execute their leftist political opponents.

One of the worst atrocities along those lines is the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, along with their housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter, apparently by an elite army unit.

The government, in collusion with the military, has hampered the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.

But the rebel organization, the FMLN, has an equally bloody record of terrorism and assassination, including the deaths of U.S. military advisors. They also stand accused of the murders of nuns, priests and other religious and community leaders in rural areas of the country under their control.

The Bush administration's reasoning in releasing the funds - previously frozen to encourage peace negotiations between the rebels and the government of President Alfredo Cristiani - is that the rebels are increasingly guilty of human rights violations.

Releasing the money is supposed to send them a warning of continued U.S. backing of Cristiani's government.

In actual practice, the release of funds means that the rebels, along with the incumbent government, may both find reasons to continue their present course of action, and the war, instead of abating, will only go on.