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As discontent in El Salvador mounts, students spearhead militant opposition

El Salvador University bears the scars of its tragic history all over campus. Broken windows, ransacked libraries, and gutted laboratories recall four years of closure and military occupation. In bitter tones, professors and students remember hundreds of their political activist colleagues who fell victim to right-wing death squads earlier in this decade.

Faculty buildings, tipped crazily at an angle, surrounded now by tents that serve as lecture halls, remind the visitor of the devastation that last October's earthquake wrought.

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Freshly painted graffiti have blossomed on every available wall, proclaiming the university's refound militance. ``After 12 years of struggle, our unity strengthens,'' says one. It was painted in May by someone from the National Resistance, a faction of the Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrilla organization.

``United to fight until the final victory: revolution or death,'' shouts another common poster, depicting in dramatic red and black a guerrilla hunched over his M-16 assault rifle.

A few blocks down the road from the campus, the fortress-like United States Embassy has been decorated too during increasingly frequent anti-US demonstrations. On the heavy concrete planters that ring the Embassy walls for security are slogans painted in red: ``Out with the Yankee aggressor,'' ``Long live the people's struggles.''

As discontent with President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's rule mounts throughout the country, a rising tide of opposition militancy has swept through the capital in recent weeks. Students from the Autonomous University are at the forefront.

``The university must accompany the people in their struggle for their demands,'' the rector, Lu'is Argueta Antillon, says. ``The university has always identified with the people's causes, because it is a people's university,'' open to all for a nominal fee.

For the first time in six years, antigovernment demonstrators organized by the National Union of Salvadorean Workers (UNTS), a trade union federation, recently built barricades of burning tires, and hijacked buses, then burned them.

At the same time, the FMLN decreed that a traffic ban from May 30 to June 2 would be imposed in the countryside as well as in the cities. Guerrillas bombed telephone facilities, in daylight, in one of the capital's most exclusive areas. They began another traffic stoppage Monday, expected to last through tonight. UNTS has called for a march today to protest the July 8 police shooting of striking hospital workers here. About 25 people, including policemen, were wounded in the shooting, but no one was killed.

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The FMLN's public return to the capital, one Western diplomat says, was ``predictable'' as the guerrillas seek to capitalize on mounting popular dissatisfaction and to exploit the political space opened by the students' and unions' increasing boldness.

``The FMLN has been quietly active in San Salvador for some time,'' the diplomat says. ``With the opposition to Duarte, the circumstances arose giving them an opportunity to flex their muscles.''

The Army, which has set up a unified command with the public security forces to deal with the new rebel presence here, regards the FMLN and organizationssuch as the UNTS or the students' union as two sides of the same coin.

``The guerrillas are returning to their first phase of clandestine organization'' in the city, ``and mobilization of the masses,'' says Col. Emilio Ponce, Army operations chief.

Students and professors deny a direct link.

``The government propaganda is that the popular movement is led by the FMLN,'' says H'ector Canjura, head of the university's teachers' union. ``But people don't take to the streets out of capriciousness or guidance from the FMLN. There are objective conditions'' that explain the protests.

``The government does not want to recognize that it is their inability to meet peoples' needs'' that leads to the demonstrations, adds Bernardo Zamora, a top official of a students' union.

But, diplomats and political observers here say, there is a clear commonality of purpose between the guerrillas and the demonstrators focused on a central demand: that Duarte should resign, paving the way for a more pluralistic government. UNTS leader Marco Tulio Lima acknowledges the common ground. ``Perhaps our demands are the same as those of the FMLN. But that's because they are so basic [to solving El Salvador's problems] not because they are so radical.''

The university's leading role in voicing those demands has raised the Army's hackles. Recently, the public security chief formally accused the university of being ``a sanctuary of subversion,'' sparking memories of the four years, 1980-1984, that the Army occupied the campus, expelling all the students.

``If it were up to me, we would go in there at least to check what is going on,'' says Colonel Ponce, who believes the university is secreting guerrilla weapons.

That charge is generally dismissed by diplomats here and strongly denied by university authorities. But as a base for political organization, and mass mobilization, the campus is playing a growing role again, they say.

Where those activities might lead is still unclear. The security forces have so far been restrained in their handling of demonstrators. But there are signs that the military may abandon that policy.

``A moment must come when these violent demonstrations must stop,'' Ponce warns. ``I'm not talking about massacres,'' such as occurred six years ago, he adds hastily. ``But we are considering some restrictive measures.''

More worrisome yet, is the fact that a notorious right-wing death squad reared its head again in June. A group claiming to be the Maximiliano Hern'andez Brigade, viciously active during the height of violence here a few years ago, just published a list of 13 people it says it has targeted. All are students or teachers at the University of El Salvador.

Government officials, trade unionists, and diplomats fear the cycle of protest and repression that racked the capital before may soon break out again. -30-{et

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