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Salvadoran Rebel Leader Killed In Army Ambush

April 14, 1991

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The Salvadoran army killed 14 guerrillas - including a commander who was the nephew of Nicaragua’s president - in what rebels claimed was an effort to derail peace talks, a rebel spokesman said Saturday.

The ambush occurred at dawn Thursday in El Salvador’s northern province of Chalatenango, said Salvador Samoaya, spokesmen for the political commission of the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN.

Salpress, a Mexico City-based news organization with close ties to the rebel organization, also reported details of the ambush.

″It was obviously an attempt to destroy the talks,″ Samoaya said in an interview. ″This demonstrates that the army has no will to negotiate.″

″For our part, we have the political responsibility along with the whole nation to continue the (peace) negotiations, but you can be sure there will be a military response,″ he said.

U.N.-mediated peace talks opened in Mexico City on April 4 and were expected to last three weeks. A recess was called Friday and negotiations are scheduled to resume Tuesday.

Samoaya said the recess was called before negotiators learned of the ambush. He said FMLN negotiators learned of the killings from their government counterparts.

Samoyoa said top rebel field commander Antonio Cardenal was killed in the ambush. His aunt is Nicaraguan President Violeta Chamorro.

The 41-year-old Cardenal, whose nom de guerre was Comandante Jesus Rojas, belonged to a closely knit group of leaders who run the FMLN, a coalition of five rebel armies fighting the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government. He took part in most peace conferences with the Salvadoran government since June.

Salvadoran Vice Minister of Defense Orlando Zepeda called the killing of Cardenal ″a heavy blow to the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.″

″His death is the product of the very dialectic of war that they (the FMLN) initiated,″ Zepeda told reporters Saturday in Nicaragua at a two-day Central American security meeting.

Nicaraguan Assistant Foreign Minister Ernesto Leal said his office spoke to Salvadoran officials to make arrangements for transporting Cardenas’ body to Nicaragua for burial.

Samoaya alleged that the ambush was conducted with the knowledge of Salvadoran President Alfredo Cristiani.

″They knew he was in the area, they knew he was a member of the negotiating commission, and they knew it was an action that would have grave political repercussions,″ he said.

A spokesman for the armed forces press office in San Salvador, who insisted on anonymity, said he had no information on the report.

The ambush occurred near the village of El Zapote, about 80 miles northeast of the capital - territory which the guerrillas claim to control, said Salpress.

The issue of rebel-controlled areas was one of the main agenda points in the peace talks. The FMLN has claimed it has control of areas in 12 of El Salvador’s 14 departments, Salpress said. The government has denied the claim.

Eighteen guerrillas riding in a pickup truck driven by a civilian were ambushed by the army’s rapid-deployment Atlcatl Infantry Battalion, Salpress said. The driver was also killed.

Salpress said four guerrillas managed to escape, including Miguel Lopez, another rebel leader.

Samoaya said Cardenal was injured when explosives blew up the pickup truck, and was later shot in the head at close range.

The Nicaraguan-born Cardenal arrived in El Salvador in 1969 as a Jesuit seminarian, but renounced the priesthood a few months later to join the guerrilla movement.

Cardenal had spoken with a group of journalists, including an Associated Press correspondent, the day before he was killed.

In the interview, held in the same area where the ambush occurred, Cardenal said the rebels would not disarm just to win a cease-fire in the peace talks.

″After 10 years of war we have earned the right to retake the path of political life without them killing us,″ Cardenal said. ″That only will be possible with the end of the war.″

The 12-year-old civil war between the leftist rebels and a succession of U.S.-backed governments has killed an estimated 75,000 people, most of them civilians.

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