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Salvador Claims It Wounded and Possibly Killed Top Rebel Leader

April 06, 1985|From a Times Staff Writer

SAN SALVADOR — Joaquin Villalobos, the top military leader of the guerrillas fighting the U.S.-backed government of El Salvador, was badly wounded and perhaps killed in battle last weekend, Maj. Carlos Aviles, a spokesman for the army, said Friday.

There was no immediate independent confirmation of the army's report, and Ruben Zamora, a leader of the rebels' political organization, said by telephone from Nicaragua that the report was "absolutely false."

Aviles cited a report from the field that Villalobos, 33, was shot during an army sweep in northern San Miguel province, spearheaded by the 3rd Infantry Brigade. He quoted an unnamed army reservist as saying that he knew Villalobos by sight and that the guerrilla leader was shot in the shoulder and leg.

Aviles also cited accounts from peasants in the province that Villalobos was dead, and that other leaders of his insurgent organization were meeting to choose a new leader.

Villalobos commands the People's Revolutionary Army, one of the two largest of the five rebel combat groups fighting the government as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. He has long been considered the best field commander among the guerrilla leaders, and since mid-1983, Western intelligence agencies have considered him to be the de facto commander in chief of the forces in the front.

Villalobos was last reported seen in public March 28 in the San Miguel provincial town of San Antonio Mosco where he lectured peasants not to vote in government elections that took place March 31.

Villalobos is is credited with having organized the disparate elements of the front nto conventional, battalion-sized fighting units.

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