The 50 terrified villagers of Abena, Spain, near the gateway to the Pyrenees, couldn't believe their eyes or ears. An Army lieutenant, in charge of a small antiguerrilla elite patrol, had just surrounded the tiny village nestled away in the rugged countryside, and read an edict ordering all residents to gather in the main plaza.
The lieutenant announced that they had ''found sufficient proof of activities of collaborating with the enemy'' in the normally sleepy village. Mayor Jose Galindo and another villager, Generoso Ara, were then escorted by soldiers to the plaza. They were accused of being enemy collaborators, and an immediate execution was ordered.
Soldiers then stood them up against a wall. The lieutentant ordered the firing squad of six soldiers to prepare for the execution.
''Ready, aim, fire!'' he ordered. Speechless villagers heard a round of gunfire. The mayor's wife, Maria, screamed hysterically along with other women. Several women ran to their houses to hide.
The mayor and his alleged collaborator, however, didn't fall to the ground in agony but were still standing, unharmed, against the wall. The ''bullets'' had been blanks. The soldiers giggled and snickered. The whole incident had only been a ''practice exercise'' of the Spanish Army's Company of Special Operations' (COE) an elite corps that trains for guerrilla warfare combat.
''The lieutenant then gave us all some cigarettes for having been so afraid, and left with no explanation,'' commented villager Antonio Abadias. Later, however, an Army captain showed up in the town to apologize for any inconveniences caused by the exercise and asked the citizens ''to please not say anything to anyone.''
''It was like the civil war again,'' recalled Mr. Abadias, one of the few citizens who agreed to speak to Spanish reporters. ''I hadn't had those sensations since then,'' he repeated again.
The incident took place only last week, June 6, not during the bitter civil war of 1936-39. A local radio station 20 kilometers away in the capital city of Jaca, in the Pyrenees province of Huesca, picked up the story a few days later, which was then picked up by national radio networks and the press.
Tuesday evening, the Jaca radio station was ransacked and vandalized with damages estimated at over 250,000 pesetas ($1,700) in addition to stealing about
''We think it must be someone who resented broadcasting the story and can't believe it was done by military personnel,'' said Carlos Sanchez, an employee of the local radio station, Radio Aragon, which belongs to the privately owned Cadena Ser, a national radio network. Mr. Sanchez said the radio station debated for a whole day whether to broadcast the story or not and waited for approval from the main office in Madrid.
The affair has now caused national indignation, and has rekindled traditional distrust of Spain's polemical armed forces. Although now only a bad memory, no one can forget the attempted coup three years ago, and another coup plot that was discovered just before the 1982 elections that swept the Socialists into power.
Spain's Defense Ministry has reacted to the scandal somewhat belatedly. The two officers involved, Lt. Jaime Iniguez and Capt. Carlos Aleman Artiles, were ''relieved of their command pending a complete clarification of the event.'' The official communique added that for special antiguerrilla exercises, ''instructions are given in which it is clearly ordered that no actions which interfere with normal activities of civilians in nearby areas or which produce undue alarm are allowed.''
The Socialist regional president of the autonomous province of Aragon, Antonio Embid, said the incident ''stained the clean image of the armed forces'' and hoped appropriate action would be taken.
Spanish papers reported that Lt. Iniguez is the son of one of the generals in Spain's joint command of chiefs of staff, Gen. Miguel Iniguez and that Captain Aleman is the brother of Captain Jose Aleman Artiles, a captain who participated in a coup plot in 1979 that preceded the famous 1981 coup attempt.
Jose Galindo, the Abena's mayor for 20 years, insists that he has ''forgiven'' the officers and would not want any punishment for the officer involved. He said he had been told ahead of time that he would not be harmed ''so I wasn't afraid.'' Nonetheless, the rest of the town was not warned and his wife was ''especially upset.''