Rebels Hold Large Parts of Some Poor Districts, Battle Continues
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ Rebels held large parts of several poor neighborhoods Monday and battled soldiers in a third day of the worst fighting the capital has experienced in a decade of civil war.
At least 305 people have been killed and 378 wounded since the rebels attacked Saturday night, according to the armed forces mortuary, civilian morgues and hospitals and unofficial military figures. It is the biggest guerrilla offensive since 1981.
Thousands of civilians were trapped in their homes by exchanges of gunfire between the army and guerrillas of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). Helicopter gunships and military planes flew over the city to attack rebel positions. Few of the city’s 1 million people were on the streets and nearly all downtown stores were closed.
Rebels were holding ground in an arc of heavily populated northern districts.
Military planes fired rockets Monday afternoon into the eastern neighborhoods of Venecia and Conacaste, trying to drive out guerrillas. Some rockets struck homes, killing several civilians and wounding others.
A broadcast on the rebels’ clandestine Radio Venceremos Monday night said, ″Every attempt by the army to recover these positions has turned into a profound bloodbath among their troops and elite corps. They have lost whole companies, producing a big demoralization in enemy ranks.″
Col. Rene Ponce, the army chief of staff, addressed the nation on television and denied the rebels controlled any part of the capital.
″There is no zone under FMLN control,″ he said. ″We are fighting in some sectors on the edge of the capital.″
He also said he ″roundly and categorically rejects the accusations″ that military aircraft have bombed the capital. ″The armed forces have not carried out any bombings in San Salvador,″ he said.
Ricardo Alexander Perdomo, 12, said in a hospital: ″A bomb hit the house and killed my mother and my little sister. A plane dropped the bomb.″ He said guerrillas gave him first aid.
U.S. Embassy sources said about 1,500 rebels were fighting in the city. Heavy combat also was reported in Santa Ana, a western province, in San Miguel to the east, around the central city of Zacatecoluca and outside Usulutan, a major city in eastern El Salvador.
The army press office stopped providing casualty counts or other information and telephone calls to provincial cities did not go through.
Officials at the armed forces mortuary said it had the bodies of 67 soldiers and military sources said 127 guerrillas had been killed. Morgues reported the bodies of 51 civilians.
Hospitals said 258 civilians had been wounded. On Sunday, the armed forces reported 65 soldiers and 55 guerrillas wounded.
The U.S. Embassy said 86 soldiers, 202 guerrillas and 17 civilians had been killed, a total of 305. Its count of 373 wounded included 189 soldiers, 96 rebels and 88 civilians, the embassy said, and 43 guerrillas were captured.
Rosales Hospital, a government institution, was without water, blood plasma, anaesthetics and other supplies, said Dr. Fausto Cea Gil, the director. Stretchers lined hallways outside emergency rooms.
President Alfredo Cristiani announced a state of siege and a 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew Sunday and legislators were considering more restrictions on civil rights.
The Bush administration said Cristiani’s government had not requested U.S. assistance in repelling the rebel attack.
″It’s our belief that they are in control of the situation at this point,″ said White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. Asked whether he would rule out U.S. involvement in the fighting, he said: ″At this point it’s not anticipated.″
Fifty-five U.S. military trainers are stationed in El Salvador but are not supposed to participate in military missions. Fitzwater said their status was unchanged.
The rebels began their offensive, attacking 35 to 40 military posts in the city and others in the provinces, after pulling out of peace talks to protest attacks on leftist political and union leaders. They blame the military and the Cristiani government for the attacks.
Cristiani, who took office June 1, leads the rightist Nationalist Republican Alliance, known as Arena. His party has been linked to death squads that operated with near-impunity early in the war and are blamed for most of the 70,000 deaths.
Heavy fighting continued in densely populated neighborhoods on the northern and eastern edges of San Salvador.
″We came down from the mountains and we’re going to stay here,″ said a guerrilla who identified himself only as Porfirio. ″We’re winning so far and we have their morale down.″
Porfirio gestured with his AK-47 assault rifle toward soldiers in the distance who seemed to be preparing for an attack.
Beatriz, an 18-year-old guerrilla with an M-16 rifle, said in Soyapango, an eastern suburb: ″The order is that, instead of retreating, we have to advance inside.″
Army troopers took up positions about 300 yards away. Eight bodies, apparently guerrillas, lay nearby.
Rebel snipers controlled the tallest buildings in Metropolis and Zacamil, said a woman who fled the area.
In Soyapango, a woman approached reporters and asked for help.
″We have no water, no food,″ she said. ″We have been here since Saturday and the children haven’t eaten anything. Help us 3/8″
Many people knew little of what was going on around them. After fighting began, the government ordered radio stations into a national network and took news programs off the air.
Television stations broadcast their usual programs, but were not allowed to transmit news.
Under the state of siege declared by Cristiani, free speech, freedom of movement and the right to assemble are suspended.
Civilians killed in the guerrilla offensive include an American teacher in San Salvador, the State Department said. Kay Babcock of Spokane, Wash., said the victim was her 25-year-old son, Christopher.