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Salvadoran Military Spokesman Assassinated

March 08, 1985|ROBERT J. McCARTNEY | The Washington Post

SAN SALVADOR — Gunmen shot and killed the chief spokesman for the Salvadoran armed forces here Thursday in an action that apparently is part of a recent increase in leftist guerrilla attacks in the capital.

The gunmen shot Col. Ricardo Cienfuegos, director of the Armed Forces Press Committee, on a tennis court at the posh Club Deportivo shortly after midday. They draped a red banner over his body, marked with large yellow letters reading "FPL." Those are the Spanish initials of the Popular Liberation Forces, one of the largest guerrilla factions in the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

A ballboy who was working on a tennis court near Cienfuegos when the officer was killed said that he heard two shots and then saw three persons dressed in tennis attire running away from the scene of the murder. Cienfuegos was shot while he was sitting on a bench next to a tennis court, the ballboy said, and the body still was seated on the bench and draped with the flag when reporters arrived about an hour later.

Other witnesses said that Cienfuegos was shot once in the back of the head by three men who approached him from behind as he was resting on the bench between games.

Although the guerrillas' flag pointed to the insurgents as the killers, there have been no public claims of responsibility by any group.

Cienfuegos was the first prominent officer to be slain in the capital by leftist guerrillas since Lt. Cmdr. Albert A. Schaufelberger III, the deputy commander of U.S. military trainers in El Salvador, was slain in May, 1983. Salvadoran and U.S. officials have said recently that the guerrillas were moving some of their combatants into San Salvador because of their lack of success in the countryside in the past year.

Duarte Notified

"The left has adopted a policy of urban destabilization," President Jose Napoleon Duarte said moments after learning of Cienfuegos' assassination. He cited both a recent spate of political killings by the left and a series of strikes by government employees' unions sympathetic to the left.

Duarte was meeting with a small group of U.S. reporters at the presidential palace when he was notified of the killing at 1:05 p.m. He immediately called Gen. Carlos Vides Casanova, the nation's defense minister, who provided him with details.

"It's almost impossible to prevent surprise assassinations of this kind," Duarte said.

Married, Father of Three

Cienfuegos, 42, was married and the father of three children. He played tennis at the club almost daily. Unlike most senior officers in the Salvadoran military, he often traveled without a bodyguard. Cienfuegos was frequently singled out for denunciation in broadcasts by the rebels' Radio Venceremos.

Cienfuegos had recently told visitors of his plans to go to the United States later this month to explain Salvadoran government policy to newspaper editorial boards.

El Salvador's leftist guerrillas were active in the capital in the late 1970s and in 1980, but they shut down most of their operations beginning in 1981 because of stepped-up countermeasures, including killings of numerous suspected leftist sympathizers. Until late last year, the Farabundo Marti front concentrated almost all of its fighting in the countryside north of the capital and in the eastern part of the country.

In recent months, however, both government officials and guerrilla leaders have said that the left was seeking to rebuild its urban base. This appeared to be a reaction to the army's improved performance in the countryside, where the government has had the military initiative for more than a year.

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