Whirlwind of violence in El Salvador

Just when it appears that El Salvador's political-social trauma may be easing , a new confrontation emerges. Last week it was the arrest of Maj. Roberto d'Abuisson, a rightist military leader who was accused of trying to mount a coup d'etat against the moderate civilian-military junta.

This week it is heavy fighting between elements of the Salvadorean Army and leftist guerrillas near the Honduran border, which resulted in more than 100 guerrilla casualties.

Again and again over recent weeks this has been the pattern.

"We are caught in a whirlwind," is how Col. Jaime Abdul Gutierrez, a member of the junta, explains it. "No sooner do we see some sign of improvement than something comes along to disrupt it all."

Moreover, last week another disruption took place as fellow junta member Col. Adolfo Arnoldo Majano lost his job as president of the junta because of his unilateral decision to arrest Major d'Abuisson. There was support for the arrest, but not in the rather arbitrary manner in which Colonel Majano carried it out.

Colonel Majano remains on the junta, but he has had his wings clipped -- and by his fellow military officers. The effect of their action has been a strengthening of Colonel Gutierrez's role on the junta and in the military.

Both Colonels Gutierrez and Majano are regarded as moderates who want to nudge El Salvador along the road to social and economic reform, as evidenced by the recent agrarian reform program that has ended centuries-old landholding patterns in the Central American country.

The junta enacted the measure and the two colonels spoke out forcibly on the issue. The three civilian members of junta, all Christian Democratic politicians, took a subordinate role in announcing the land program.

Colonel Gutierrez said 10 days ago that the land reform measure was designed to pull the rug from under leftist appeals for such reform. He indicated he hoped peasants would lend their support to the central government, now that it had made good on its promise for land reform, rather than give their support to leftist guerrillas.

There is some evidence that this is taking place. Guerrilla propaganda is urging peasants "not to be taken in by government duplicity," but the peasants seem generally happy with the early implementation of the land-reform program.

However, the guerrillas have picked up some fresh support from peasants in the area close to the Honduras border where the land reform has as yet had little effect.

This may be one reason for the current fighting in the area.

In clashes May 18, the Salvadorean Army bested a strong guerrilla force, numbering perhaps 300 men and women. The guerrilla casualty toll was set at 103 , with the Army losing 10 soldiers.

Meanwhile, a countrywide general strike is scheduled for May 20.

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