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Secret Resistance Center Uncovered at Alpine Resort

December 20, 1990

GSTAAD, Switzerland (AP) _ The Swiss Alps are riddled with underground military bases, but apparently none like the top secret installation on the edge of this plush resort.

Deep inside Mt. Horneggli, men and women were trained to become the nucleus of a Swiss resistance force to fight foreign occupiers.

The facility was ordered shut down after its existence was revealed last month, but the political furor continues.

A camouflaged gate opened into a 100-yard-long tunnel lined with 13 rooms where the would-be guerrillas - nicknamed the ″Swiss Rambos″ - lived, learned and practiced combat shooting in classes of 20 each.

At least one member was a high-ranking Defense Ministry official, and others served in the Swiss militia army.

Swiss officials have denied the commandos had any links with ″Gladio,″ the recently uncovered paramilitary network in NATO countries set up to fight a potential Soviet invasion. Switzerland is neutral.

Word of the 400-member unit, codenamed P-26, and a parallel and equally secret intelligence unit, P-27, came to light in a parliamentary inquiry last month.

The parliamentary commission concluded that P-26 and P-27 were financed through the Swiss army but operated without any supervision from civilian authorities.

The government branded both units ″vestiges of the Cold War″ and ordered them disbanded.

The disclosures brought unwanted attention to the Swiss militia army a year after a national referendum showed considerable public sentiment - one of every three voters - for abolishing it.

Ursula Mauch, a Social Democratic member of parliament, said the inquiry revealed ″only the tip of the iceberg.″

″These Rambos, Swiss-style, were to defend a democracy which they didn’t think much of,″ she said in a parliamentary debate on P-26 last week. ″It’s like ordering a wild dog to guard a sausage.″

Defense Minister Kaspar Villiger rejected as absurd allegations that P-26 could have been used in a military coup, but he admitted he had little information on the unit.

The parliamentary inquiry discovered that Villiger’s chief spokesman, Hans- Rudolf Strasser, held a key post in P-26. Strasser was then suspended from this job for failing to inform his superior of his double life.

The parliamentary committee found that Ferdinand Jakob Knecht, a construction engineer, headed P-27, and Bernhard Wehrli, the president of the Swiss Association for Environmental Protection, served as an aide.

Public attention focused on Efrem Cattelan, 59, a lawyer and reserve colonel who quit his job as insurance executive in 1979 to head P-26 at an annual salary of $160,000.

Cattelan directed training at the Gstaad underground center, only a few minutes’ walk from Elizabeth Taylor’s luxurious chalet.

The resort homes of other celebrities, like violinist Yehudi Menuhin and actor Roger Moore are also close by.

Cattelan said he was never one for spy thrillers.

″I once tried to read a John Le Carre novel but then put it aside after about 40 pages, never touching it again. I felt it was too complicated.″

Cattelan said P-26 cooperated with unidentified British contacts but he denied it had any links to Gladio units in NATO countries.

″The British have great experience, dating from colonialist times,″ he explained to an interviewer. ″Just think of Lawrence of Arabia.″

Most of the P-26 members, including about 20 women, were in their 40s or even older, according to Cattelan.

″These were people who were ready to be tortured or killed and to risk reprisals against their family,″ said Lt. Gen. Heinz Haesler, the army’s chief of staff, defending P-26 against the widespread criticism.

The unit was supposed to expand into a network of independently operating sabotage and resistance groups in case of an invasion. Members knew each other only by code names.

The independent Bern newspaper Der Bund suggested that life at the unit was rather mundane.

″There was no uprising being plotted, there were no agents a la James Bond at work and there were no silent killings.″

″P-26 was comprised mainly persons of advanced age who had to sign a contract, were insured against accidents and received official per diems,″ it said.

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