El Salvador leftists scramble to unify and oust junta

With El Salvador's moderate military-civilian junta showing signs of renewed vigor, the country's leftists are trying yet again to forge a unity that so far has proved elusive.

Agreeing that the overthrow of the United States-backed military-civilian junta is their prime goal, the four major leftist guerrilla units have set up an umbrella organization to plan joint actions.

The leftists worry that the junta is gaining strength at their expense and have decided to make the junta their main target.

"We can no longer feud among ourselves or carry out uncoordinated activities, " said a communique of the newly established Revolutionary Military Coordinating Committee. "We have one common goal: the destruction of the fascistic and reactionary junta that stands in the way of our final victory."

Nowhere in the communique do the leftist guerrillas mention the rightist paramilitary organizations or other right-wing groups that they have fought for years.

The eight-month-old junta, composed of two colonels and three civilians, has, in effect, declared war on both the right and left. But in recent weeks its main thrust has centered on a variety of social changes, including a broad- based land-reform program that has almost pulled the rug from under the leftists. One of the left's major rallying cries has been land reform.

Embattled from both left and right, the junta has stuck to its promises of significant social and economic change. "We are neither left nor right," says Col. Jaime Abdul Gutierrez, the leading military man on the junta. "We want economic and social justice for all Salvadoreans, and such justice is neither left nor right. It is simply the correct way to go."

This attitude has led to strong US support, despite some objections in the US Congress and in public forums. The opposition stems in part from allegations that the junta has engaged in human-rights violations -- accusations that are denied by the junta.

US Ambassador Robert White is regarded in San Salvador, the country's capital , to be the junta's most ardent supporter -- a situation that has angered the leftists, who allege that Mr. White acts as "Washington's proconsul in controlling the junta."

The US denies any such intent or action. But the US has been most supportive of the junta, seeing it as the alternative to two evils, the left and the right. Indeed, Washington has encouraged the junta to do what it can to curb the excesses of both sides.

Those excesses spilled over this past weekend as unidentified gunmen barged into a countryside church near San Salvador and shot an Italian priest to death.He was the ninth priest killed in El Salvador since 1977 and one of more than 3,000 people who have been killed in El Salvador this year. The left accused the right of shooting the priest, but rightists claimed the left was merely trying to blacken their image and that the left instead was responsible.

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