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Terrorists reassess takeovers

Embassy takeovers are becoming commonplace here in El Salvador, where six different embassies have been occupied by leftist opponents of the Salvadorean government at various times in the past eight months.

The latest incident -- the seizure of the Spanish Embassy Feb. 5 by a band of 30 members of the Ligas Populares 28 de Febrero (Popular Leagues of February 28) -- is raising questions among leftist groups here about whether embassy occupations achieve their purposes.

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In part, the purpose was to attract worldwide attention. Certainly regional attention was a goal.

The occupation of the Costa Rican Embassy several months ago was aimed at focusing Costa Rican attention on the terrorist cause here. It did that for a time, but now the Costa Ricans appear to be thinking of other things.

It appears that part of the value of the takeovers to the occupying groups has been lost with the frequency of the seizures. There is less news value in the takeovers here now than there was a few months ago.

This is true even in the case of the Spanish Embassy seizure, which came five days after a similar takeover of the Spanish Embassy in neighboring Guatemala. That incident ended with the deaths of 37 persons in an explosion and fire at the embassy building.

"We cannot get the number of newsmen here for this occupation," one of the terrorists complained when interviewed by this reporter on the phone. "We seized newsmen last week and we may have to do it again to get our views aired."

But behind his complaint is an overall policy reassessment by antigovernment forces here, suggesting a new view that embassy occupations may have limited value. For one thing, although takeovers have sometimes led to release of prisoners, it is recognized here that there are probably fewer such prisoners than terrorists claim.

This is certainly the case with the list of prisoners that the occupiers of the Spanish Embassy want released. A number of them are simply "not in our jails," a government spokesman says. Others, apparently, are dead having been killed in recent clashes.

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The occupation of the Spanish Embassy went into its second day Feb. 6.

[Reuters reports from San Salvador that El Salvador and militants occupying the Spanish Embassy each freed seven prisoners FeB. 6. Five diplomats, including the Spanish ambassador, are still held by militants.]

Meanwhile, Ligas members continue to hold the Christian Democratic Party headquarters here. Elements of another leftist group, the Movimiento Estudiantil Revolucionario de Secundaria (MERS), seized the Ministry of Education.

"Something has got to be done to change the pattern," a columnist in La Prensa Grafica, a leading morning paper, commented. "Otherwise we are to slip into anarchy."

But many observers feel that El Salvador may already have slipped into anarchy. Still there are numerous groups within and without government that are trying to stem the growing turmoil.


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