FOR most of a week, even after dictator Nicolae Ceausescu tried to flee his own country, Romania has been held hostage by a desperate band of assassins. The key figures in the violent resistance to the people's revolution have been members of the Securitate, the secret police who terrorized a nation for decades. Hard-line Securitate members were given a deadline of 5 p.m. yesterday to surrender their weapons or face emergency courts and immediate execution, Romania's new leaders warned.
The official news agency Agerpres said the warning was being broadcast repeatedly by Romanian television and radio as the ultimatum, issued Wednesday, ran into its final hours.
Western diplomats in Bucharest said that many were already submitting to the deadline.
These special counterterrorism units operated training schools near Baneasa International Airport and were regarded as capable and fanatical.
Against such well-trained commandos, fighting for their lives, young and inexperienced Army troops fight for a new government.
Quick identification of the two sides has been difficult because, even in uniform, the Securitate and the Army have the same color and type of uniform, but with a different colored chest insignia.
And the Securitate has another advantage: For years, it occupied a large number of apartments along main boulevards as observation posts to protect Ceausescu. The Romanian dictator's daily drive from his home on Primaveri Street to his office at the Central Committee building took him past those posts.
The toll from fighting has been heavy, although it is not known how many have died from the assassins' bullets.
The Securitate commandos appear to set up shop, fire, and move on. Knowledge of an intricate network of tunnels connecting buildings in central Bucharest has enabled them to move about fairly freely and to avoid capture.
Showing their flexibility early in the fighting, commandos withdrew from the Central Committee building to the presidential palace, attacked, then spread to other locations and back to the Central Committee.
Other commandos, disguised as medics, commandeered ambulances and passed through hundreds of roadblocks established by civilians and militia. Terrorists who turned up at a restaurant as waiters were discovered to have ammunition and carbines and were hustled away. Still others fired from cemeteries, schools, and factories.
On Saturday night, the terrorists tried to enter the Army headquarters. They were in small armored personnel carriers (APCs).
``We never saw such small APCs when we were in the army,'' said Marus Pavaloiu, an engineer who witnessed the assault.
As the terrorists intended, residents have responded to the fighting with panic. Vigilantes searched all vehicles crossing checkpoints and occasionally people carrying weapons were captured.
Citizens were barricading their apartment buildings, because terrorists were trying to force their way in. Residents take turns standing guard at entrances to their apartment blocks.
The Securitate illustrate how Ceausescu carefully constructed a web of insulation for himself, setting up numerous spheres of power. Each had countervailing force, in case one should try to oppose him.
In return for their loyalty, Securitate members were permited to live the good life.
They were extremely well paid by Romanian standards and many had large, elegant homes. Their children were assured of admission to universities, which accept only one in 10 Romanians.
The Securitate had near total penetration of institutions in the country. Tour guides, hotel officials, and others were constantly pressured to report unusual activity and unknown persons.
Even promotions in the church hierarchy were said to be determined by the Securitate and top religious officials were regarded in some instances as Securitate agents.