Left-wing guerrillas have intensified their tactics in their effort to overthrow the Salvadorean government. The recent kidnapping of eight mayors over a two-day period in the northern Chaletenango Province represents an expansion of the guerrillas' war effort into a new part of El Salvador.
Last week's kidnappings show that the United States-backed government doesn't have military or political control over much of the eastern and northern parts of the country, political observers say. In most areas of conflict, mayors have left their towns and rule from the provincial capitals.
The abductions also hurt the government's counterinsurgency strategy, which is to win over support of civilians near guerrilla-held areas by sending them humanitarian aid. Such aid has been channeled through mayors.
The kidnapping of 21 mayors last spring was conducted by one of the two largest guerrilla organizations, the People's Revolutionary Army (ERP), in the eastern part of the country. ERP is the predominant guerrilla force there and is the most militarily powerful element in the Farabundo Mart'i National Liberation Front (FMLN), an umbrella group of five rebel organizations.
The kidnappings in Chalatenango, stronghold of the other major guerrilla organization, the Popular Liberation Forces, indicate that the PLF accepted ERP's tactics. FMLN said it would release the mayors if the government clarified the situation of several key guerrillas and collaborators who have disappeared and never been accounted for.
Although the ruling Christian Democrats express support for the abducted mayors, eight mayors interviewed in eastern El Salvador expressed anger at the government and the Roman Catholic Church's lack of action.
Political observers here don't expect a rapid freeing of either the abducted mayors or President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte's daughter, who was kidnapped Sept. 10. Secret negotiations for the release of In'es Duarte continue behind a wall of official government silence, according to these observers. Ms. Duarte's kidnappers demanded Monday that the government release 34 guerrillas by the afternoon of Sept. 25. in exchange for Ms. Duarte. On Wednesday government officials denied that the guerrillas
had issued an ultimatum.