By Nelson Renteria and Michael O'Boyle
SAN SALVADOR, March 12 (Reuters) - El Salvador's top military commander said on Wednesday the armed forces would not intervene in the disputed presidential election between a former leftist guerrilla leader and his right-wing rival, who has asked for the result to be annulled.
Norman Quijano of the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena) came second in Sunday's vote, narrowly trailing the ruling leftist party candidate Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who was known as Commander Leonel Gonzalez during the country's 12-year civil war.
Quijano has asked the country's election tribunal, which has called the outcome "irreversible," to annul the result, claiming widespread fraud and threatening to take his complaint to the Supreme Court if necessary.
"They know very well we've defeated them," Quijano told his supporters on Sunday. "Our armed forces are keeping an eye on this fraud. They can't play with the desires of the people, nor can they upend the foundations of our democracy. They can't steal the legitimate triumph from my nation."
But on Wednesday, Defense Minister General David Munguia ruled out the prospect of military intervention, saying the army would abide by the result, irrespective of the winner.
"We promise to wholeheartedly respect the sovereign decision of El Salvador, expressed in the polling booths," Munguia said. "In no way, at least on behalf of the armed forces, is a coup being plotted or any other conspiracy."
Quijano later sought to distance himself from his previous comments, saying he never meant to imply the army was planning an overthrow and was simply referring to the military's role in monitoring voting centers.
"Arena is not an anarchical party. Arena is not a party prone to violence," he said at a press conference. "We don't support any act of violence."
Sanchez Ceren, of the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, has said he expects he could be declared winner by Thursday, which would make him the first leftist ex-rebel leader to become president.
The war claimed 75,000 lives and left the country deeply divided after leftist insurgents battled a string of U.S.-backed right-wing governments between 1980 and 1992.
Sanchez Ceren has promised to make a "national pact" with conservative parties and business owners and to establish a moderate government.
Quijano has argued Sanchez Ceren would steer the country to the far left and bow to the influence of socialist Venezuela. (Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Simon Gardner and Lisa Shumaker)