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Salvadorans Brace for Urban Violence Increase

IN the wake of last week's bombing of a trade-union headquarters that left 10 dead and 30 wounded, many observers are concerned about the rising spiral of political violence and the possibility of a deepening of the nearly decade-long civil war. Last Tuesday's bombing of the Fenastras union headquarters appeared to be in retaliation for an attempted guerrilla attack on the Army High Command the day before. One civilian was killed and 15 wounded. However, the homemade mortars used by the guerrillas missed their target - a meeting of the Army's top commanders.

Earlier in the day, before the bomb was placed inside the entryway of the union headquarters, the offices of the Mothers of the Disappeared were bombed. A neighbor reportedly saw uniformed soldiers running from the offices just before the explosion.

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``We are profoundly disturbed and dismayed by the three tragic bombing incidents that have occurred,'' said US Ambassador William Walker following the bombings.

``This violence has to stop,'' says a businessman. ``If it doesn't we'll end up with another Beirut.''

Because of the bombing, the leftist guerrilla group, Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN), suspended peace talks with the government scheduled for Nov. 20 and 21 in Caracas.

``We must prevent our presence in the dialogue from being used to cover up the government's responsibility in this massacre and to strengthen [President Alfredo] Cristiani's mask of a `moderate' interested in dialogue, which he uses to gain political space and US financing to prolong the war,'' said the FMLN communiqu'e.

The FMLN is expected to launch attacks to avenge the union killings and the Salvadoran Army is expecting most attacks to occur in the capital.

``What will increase are the actions they call urban warfare,'' says Army Chief of Staff Ren'e Emilio Ponce. On Wednesday in the capital, FMLN urban commandos fired two antitank weapons at the Army's First Brigade, which missed and killed a passing motorist; on Friday, they threw small bombs into the house of an Army colonel. More serious attacks are expected.

Mr. Cristiani rejected Friday FMLN charges of responsibility. He announced he will form a commission to investigate the bombing and said he would request foreign technical expertise.

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The Salvadoran left is skeptical about the offer to investigate. ``Seventy thousand people have been killed in 10 years and all we hear are promises to investigate,'' says Guillermo Ungo, a leader of the leftist Democratic Convergence.

Cristiani has carefully avoided speculating on who placed the bomb. But others in his rightist Arena Party, including party founder Roberto d'Aubuisson and Arena President Armando Calderon Sol, have said that the bomb was probably placed by the FMLN itself.

Although peace talks might start up again in the future, the immediate prospect is for increasing violence.

``Unfortunately, we are going to be right about what we said during the electoral campaign - that the polarization and death will increase,'' says Eduardo Colindres, spokesman for the Christian Democratic Party.

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