Salvador's tensions heightened by kidnapping

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The six-week crisis over the kidnapping of President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's daughter has brought to the fore tensions between El Salvador's government and the military, and within the military itself. The Army has split into factions over the issue of the kidnapping. Army members debated whether to hold negotiations and if so, whether to make concessions.

Many observers believe that the crisis has forced President Duarte to use up much of his political leverage with the Army.

``There's been a strain [with the military]. Let's face it,'' says a Western diplomat.

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``He'll [Duarte] have to listen to them [the military] for awhile. The Army has a handle on him now.''

The effect will be that Duarte will have to continue his courtship with the Army.

He will have to step back from any sensitive issues that could bring him into conflict with the miltary.

This could mean an end to the peace talks between the 16-month-old government and the left-wing guerrillas.

The talks are are stalled after just two meetings last year.

But observers say the tensions are deeper and more basic.

``The Army is very unsettled,'' said one informed source with close links to the military and the ruling Christian Democratic Party.

Another source, who talked with military officers after last month's meeting between Duarte and the Army High Command, notes, ``The officers haven't changed in essence how they view the government. They are seeing that the Duarte government doesn't have a future and are starting to scheme.''

But no observers are predicting any imminent action against Duarte because all United States economic aid which would be cut off immediately in the event of a coup.

Observers note that even the Army hardliners are pragmatic enough to recognize that Duarte's relationship with the US has been beneficial to the Army. But the Army still resents US influence in the area.

Some observers think that the crisis has also exposed the vulnerabilites of the Duarte government to Army hardliners and to the rightist parties with whom Army hardliners are loosely allied.

Army spokesman Col. Carlos Aviles calls the kidnapping crisis a ``test by fire.''

The Army showed that it respected the authority of the president, says Colonel Aviles.

``This wouldn't have been possible a year ago. Six years ago it would have been a coup d'etat.''

He compares the recent crisis to the Army's backing of the Christian Democratic victory in the National Assembly election April 3, against the challenge to the elections by the rightist parties.

But many observers see pragmatic self-interest motivating the Army, rather than dedication to democratic rule.

They see Duarte having to make further accommodations with the military by keeping his eyes closed to allegations of continuing violations of human rights by the Army and the security forces.

The Army, traditionally El Salvador's most powerful institution, is a force vital to Duarte's survival as president. It has long distrusted Duarte, despite the controversial pact his ruling Christian Democratic Party signed with the military in January 1980, which brought him the presidency then and prompted a major split in the party.

The party and Duarte presided, with the military during the height of death squad killings -- many directly linked to the government security forces.

Duarte's first conflict with the Army as President came after the first round of peace talks with left-wing guerrillas in La Palma in Oct. 15, 1984. He had to postpone the second round and personally lobby the Army commanders to allow it to take place on Nov. 30, 1984. That was the last such meeting.

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