SAN SALVADOR — Soldiers discovered a column of leftist guerrillas in northeastern El Salvador and killed 17 in heavy fighting overnight, the district military commander said Saturday.
He said one soldier was killed and four were wounded in a battle that began Friday night and lasted until early Saturday in Morazan province.
The commander, Col. Mauricio Vargas, said the rebels were discovered on the outskirts of Rio Torola, about 115 miles northeast of San Salvador.
Insurgents of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front have stepped up their fighting in the last month, attacking several military posts in different parts of this Central American country and killing or wounding at least 40 soldiers.
For all of 1986, the rebels claim to have killed or wounded 6,151 soldiers in their fight against the U.S.-backed government of President Jose Napoleon Duarte.
Church Tallies Toll
The Roman Catholic Church, which keeps a tally of casualties in the civil war, said the armed forces suffered 421 casualties last year.
The church's legal office said 1,725 people, including soldiers, civilians and rebels, were killed in fighting in 1986.
In all, more than 62,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the war began in the fall of 1979.
Meanwhile, sources at the state electric company said rebels dynamited 20 towers carrying primary power lines and another 20 posts for secondary lines in the past three days in the eastern part of the country. About 45 villages in the provinces of Usulutan and La Union have been without power, the sources said.
The rebels have repeatedly blown up electrical facilities in an effort to cripple the nation's economy.