La Escopeta, El Salvador
The Salvadorean Air Force has increased indiscriminate bombing raids in conflictive and guerrilla-held zones, according to residents and recently displaced people from the Cuscatlan and Cabanas provinces.
Air strikes by A-37 B ''Dragonfly'' jet fighter-bombers and Huey helicopters are now being made two or three times a day on and around Guazapa Volcano, those interviewed say.
However, Air Force Capt. Luis Mario Aguilar Alfaro, a spokesman for the Salvadorean joint chiefs of staff, denies these charges.
''The Air Force does not make indiscriminate bombing strikes,'' he says. ''Each bombing strike is requested by ground troops in the area against specific targets. These targets contain large concentrations of terrorists who are being attacked by our ground forces.''
The strikes on Guazapa Volcano, which harbors several hundred guerrillas as well as a sizable civilian population, have radically altered daily life, according to former and current residents.
''We have little to eat because we are not able to grow anything,'' says one woman standing in her house, half of which was destroyed by a bomb in February.
''When we hear the noise of the planes,'' she says, ''we run to take cover under the trees because they fire their machine guns and drop their bombs on the houses.''
One tiny village in this area, La Escopeta, resembles a ghost town. Every structure appears to have been hit at least once by a bomb and many show signs of being strafed by machine-gun fire. Near the edge of the village a large section of land is black and charred from a recent bombing attack.
''We don't think these attacks are aimed at the guerrillas,'' says one guerrilla fighter whose nom de guerre is Norma, ''because the enemy always bombs population centers, and we never concentrate in these locations. We suspect the plan is to demoralize and disrupt the life of the civilians here so that they are either killed or forced out of our zone of control.''
Civilian residents in La Escopeta and displaced people from other towns around Guazapa Volcano say entire villages have been abandoned in the past few weeks.
''Towns such as El Zapote, El Corozal, Tres Cevas, Palo Grande, and Mirandilla no longer exist,'' one woman contends.
These sources say that daily existence is now dominated by these bombing strikes.
''We cannot cook during the day because we fear the planes will see the smoke from our fires and attack,'' says one woman who recently fled the area. ''When we cook at night we always keep water near the fire to put it out when the planes come. We do not hang our laundry out to dry because it will mark us as a target. We cannot grow things in our plot of land.''
These sources contend that some people in the zone spend a large part of their days and nights hiding in holes in the ground. Residents complain of hearing problems, insomnia, and headaches. They contend their night vision is impaired and say that a few of their neighbors have become mentally imbalanced.
''Now you see people talking to themselves when no one is there,'' one woman says. ''They want to escape, but they are poor, have lived all of their lives in their huts, and have nowhere to go. The pressure of wanting to leave, but not being able to, drives them crazy.''
Those who have fled say that leaving the guerrilla-held and conflictive zones is equally perilous.
''When we fled,'' says one woman whose children and husband were killed in a bombing attack, ''the Army was not on the road, so we survived. If they see you coming down from the volcano, they will kill you.''
Many of those who remain in the area, recently displaced people from the volcano say, have fallen into such desolation that they often lack sufficient clothing.
''Three months ago I was in my house with my family when we heard the noise of the planes,'' says one teen-age girl who fled from the volcano about 10 days ago. ''As usual we all began to run from the house, but my father, mother, brothers, and sisters were not fast enough and died from the bomb. I was wounded.''
The young girl, who has dark circles under her eyes and appears nervous, has several discolored areas on her body. She contends she was taken in by neighbors until she was well enough to flee.
''They took care of me, but my hand is still bad,'' she says. Her right hand, which is a pale white, is wrapped in a damp handkerchief. She contends she must always wrap her hand in the handkerchief because of a constant burning sensation.
''The bombing has become worse in the past few weeks,'' she says, ''and many nights we had to stay under the trees because of the bombs.''
This girl says she fled the Guazapa area because the family she lived with lacked food for several days before her departure.
''At night,'' another displaced person says, ''they drop little lights that explode into bright lights so that it is like day and then the planes bomb.''
The bombing attacks have become much more accurate in recent weeks, these sources contend.
''They used to bomb and it wouldn't land near to the houses, but now they have something to detect exactly where we are,'' a displaced person from Guazapa says. ''No one is safe in their homes, no one is safe anywhere.''