Gulf of differences between Bogota, Tehran embassy seizures

There is an immediate inclination to see similarities in the seizure of the Dominican Republic Embassy in Bogota and the occupation of the US Embassy in Tehran.

But there are substantial differences between the two, which become more apparent with the Colombian takeover reportedly nearing a peaceful solution. Talks between the Colombian government and the guerrillas occupying the Dominican Embassy are progressing well.

The Tehran takeover, together with the holding of some 50 US citizens as hostages, which continues to defy solution, is unique in the annals of terrorism with its virtual government acquiescence.

The Bogota incident, in which 18 ambassadors and chiefs of mission were kidnapped, however, is merely the latest in a long history of embassy takeovers and diplomatic kidnappings in Latin America by terrorists who oppose the governments in power.

Moreover, the terrorist seizure of the Dominican Embassy in Colombia was a classic action by a small commando group invading an embassy for narrow political gain. That is a far cry from the US Embassy takeover in Tehran by a mob for broad nationalist goals with apparent government connivance.

It would be virtually impossible for a group like the M-19 guerrillas (Movimiento de 19 Abril), who seized the Dominican Embassy in Bogota, to take over a US embassy as in Tehran, given the heavy security around most US facilities.

The guerrilla strike at the Dominican Embassy in Bogota was not met by heavy security. The embassy was largely unprotected, although there were police on duty because so many ambassadors were present. The closest parallel in Latin America to the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran was the march of militant students past the US Embassy in San Salvador, the Salvadorean capital, last Oct. 30. For a time it appeared as if the mob of hundreds of militants might try to invade the embassy. But beefed-up security at the embassy, making it virtually an armed camp, prevented such an invasion.

In recent times the only other successful terrorist takeover of a US diplomatic mission was the US consulate in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August 1975 by five members of the Japanese Red Army. The terrorists forced the release of five of their comrades from Japanese prisons and were given safe conduct to Libya in return for the release of their hostages.

But takeovers of diplomatic facilities other than those of the US seem to be increasing in number.

The incident at the Dominican Embassy in Bogota is the ninth embassy takeover in Latin America this year. The Panamanian Embassy in El Salvador, The Salvadorean Embassy in Panama, the Spanish embassies in Guatemala and El Salvador, and the Belgian and Danish embassies in Mexico City have also been seized this year -- and later vacated.

According to specialists in terrorism, there have been three major terrorist tactics in the past generation, two of which affect diplomats and embassies. The first was the decade-long era of aerial hijacking and the blowing up of aircraft during the 1960s. Greater security at airports by the early 1970s led to a second tactic: diplomatic assassinations and kidnappings.

Finally, there has been the third approach -- the seizing of embassies and hostages for ransom. The takeover in Tehran is the most conspicuous example.

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