Alfredo Cristiani, the rightist victor in the presidential election, says he has assured U.S. officials of his commitment to human rights despite his party's past image and links to death squads.

The coffee baron swept to a first-round victory in Sunday's voting on the ticket of the Republican Nationalist Alliance, known as ARENA.The party, which represented the interests of El Salvador's landed oligarchy when it was founded in 1981, has been linked to rightist death squads that murdered thousands of suspected leftists in the early 1980s.

Cristiani beat the candidate of the incumbent Christian Democrats, lawyer Fidel Chavez Mena, by about 20 percentage points, unofficial returns show. As many as half the country's registered voters did not cast ballots, however.

The official vote count is expected Thursday, but election officials say it is clear ARENA won with more than 50 percent of the vote.

Cristiani, elected to a five-year term, called Monday on all of El Salvador's political parties to unite in the search for peace and prosperity and "of course eliminating . . . violence and human rights violations."

El Salvador has been wracked by a nine-year civil war that has cost 70,000 lives, most of them civilian, and worsening economic problems.

Cristiani says he represents a more moderate ARENA than the party founded by dismissed army major Roberto D'Aubuisson, who was once called a "pathological killer" by former U.S. ambassador Robert White. D'Aubuisson has always denied death squad links.

D'Aubuisson, called ARENA's"maximum leader," holds no official party position but was at Cristiani's side throughout the campaign.

Cristiani said D'Aubuisson, a national legislator, will not have a position in the new government.

U.S. election observers said they emphasized the human rights question when they met with Cristiani.

A surge in human rights violations would be embarrassing to the Bush administration, which issued a blunt reminder to Cristiani on Monday.