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Salvadorean Army positions itself for new political era

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Changes at the top of El Salvador's military command are a result of pressure from younger officers. The changes - which amount to the first major restructuring of the armed forces - will be gradual. They began with last week's replacement of the Vice-Minister of Public Security and the retirement of the Vice-Minister of Defense. But by March 1989, most of the top hierarchy will be replaced, say military sources.

Many of the officers closely identified with President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte will be replaced with younger, more conservative officers likely to take a tougher stand in the war against leftist insurgents.

The key factor motivating the change is the younger officers' desire for career advancement. ``The younger officers are getting frustrated after being in the field for five years with no changes,'' says a West European diplomat.

``Every enterprise needs movement,'' says Col. Orlando Zepeda, head of El Salvador's military intelligence. ``There has to be some movement in the armed forces as well. ...''

The timing of the restructuring also represents an Army effort to position itself for a new political era. Currently, there is a power vacuum caused by the absence of ailing President Duarte and the nation is seeing a transition following the defeat of the ruling Democratic Christian Party in March Assembly elections and the rise of the rightist Arena Party.

The lack of change had created a ``serious bottleneck,'' says the Western diplomat. Nobody had expected that either Defense Minister Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Cassanova or Army Chief of Staff Gen. Adolfo Onec'ifero Bland'on would remain in their posts more than a fewyears following their appointments in 1983.

Over the years, US official policy here has resisted the pressures for change in the military hierarchy because both General Vides and General Bland'on supported Mr. Duarte and the US strategy for fighting the war. The US did not want to add any new factors that might destabilize an already fragile government.


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