Bizarre Standoff Between Guerrillas, Soldiers at Salvador Hotel With PM-Salvador, Bjt
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (AP) _ The Sheraton Hotel bristled with guns. Salvadoran soldiers with assault rifles crouched in the lobby, sharpshooters perched on the roof.
Armored personnel carriers occupied the parking lot - instead of the usual luxury sedans - and ambulances were parked ominously nearby. Helicopters and warplanes roared overhead.
The stretch of swimming pool and lounge chairs between the main building and the VIP tower, which the guerrillas had taken, was no-man’s land.
At least eight U.S. military advisors were trapped on the fourth floor of the tower. Guerrillas were on the floor above, along with guests, and on the floor below.
A small band of reporters crouched in the entranceway to the tower, next to the stairwell that the Americans covered with their M-16 assault rifles. The American advisers said they were under orders not to shoot unless fired upon.
It was a bizarre standoff.
No one wanted to move. No one wanted anyone else to move. Neither the guerrillas nor the Americans wanted to start shooting. No one knew if or when Salvadoran troops might try to take the tower.
The reporters crawled over to the edge of the stairwell, calling down to the guerrillas. None wanted to be interviewed. The reporters then called down the hallway to the Americans.
No sudden moves. It was simple for us: Let everyone know who you are, where you are, what you want.
One of the Americans agreed to talk. Three reporters were allowed around the corner, into the hallway.
″We would like to leave,″ the soldier said matter-of-factly.
He asked the reporters to let the U.S. Embassy know they were trapped in the hotel and asked too that the Salvadoran troops hold their fire.
″We’re here because we don’t feel we can leave safely,″ he said.
The guerrillas and the soldiers had surprised each other in the hallway shortly after the pre-dawn rebel attack on the hotel, he said. Both sides ″took up defensive positions.″
″We were talking to them, trying to calm them down,″ he said.
After several hours, the guerrillas moved off the fourth floor.
The soldier said his group had not fired on the guerrillas. He cited the rules of engagement for U.S. military personnel in El Salvador - ″Unless we’re fired upon, we don’t fire.″
The reporters returned to the entranceway.
Suddenly a young guerrilla appeared on the stairwell from above. He sat there, in the soldiers’ line of fire, looking curiously down at the reporters, smiling. As the reporters left, he gave a little wave.
The neighborhood around the Sheraton, one of the wealthiest in war-ravaged San Salvador, was a battleground too.
More than 200 soldiers of the Cavalry Regiment, the National Police’s Panther Battalion and the army’s 1st Brigade occupied the streets.
Private guards at many of the luxurious mansions surrounded by barbed wire- topped fences added yet another element of risk to those foolish enough to venture out.
Few did. The streets were virtually deserted except for soldiers, police and a few journalists waving white flags and crying ″Prensa 3/8 Prensa 3/8 (Press 3/8 Press 3/8)″
Shots echoed and bullets whistled along the streets throughout the day, from every direction. Turning a corner or crossing an intersection was something that required serious consideration.
A plane armed with rockets and machine guns made several passes over the hotel and fired at least six rockets. They landed about 200 yards from the Sheraton in a ravine alongside the hotel.
Dozens of poor people fled the community of shacks along the ravine.
″The rockets blew our roof off,″ said Antonio Herrera, as he hustled down the street with his sobbing wife and two little girls. ″We were on the floor all afternoon, under our beds.″