The armed group that occupied thePolish Embassy here released four more hostages early today after extending by 48 hours the deadline for meeting its demands, Swiss authorities announced. The gunmen were believed still to be holding at least four men.
Initially, the attackers had threatened to blow up the embassy by 10 a.m. (4 a.m. EDT) today if their demands for an end to repression in Poland were not met.
Although eight hostages, including all women originally taken captive, had been freed by early today and negotiations were continuing, there appeared to be no softening in basic positions.
The Swiss government, asked by Warsaw officials to retake the embassy, yesterday ordered the gunmen to surrender the hostages and leave the building. "Our position is the same," Ulrich Hubacher, the Swiss government spokesman, told reporters. "It is that the gunmen must surrender. There are no alternatives."
The occupiers were reported standing by their demands for the lifting of martial law in Poland, the release of all political prisoners there, the disbanding of all Polish prison camps and a stop to all repression of the Polish people. But they did reduce the number of hostages they are holding.
At midday yesterday the gunmen released two elderly women, who left the embassy from a back door in a black Mercedes, and late in the evening they let go a student who was visiting the embassy at the time it was seized. At 1:30 a.m. today, three more women were allowed to leave. An hour later another man was released.
One woman, five months pregnant, had been freed from the embassy just before midnight Monday. Then a doctor was allowed in to treat one hostage said to be suffering from hypertension.
Hubacher said a key role in negotiating the release of the hostages was played by 80-year-old Polish emigre, Joseph Boschenski, a Dominican priest and former professor of philosophy at Fribourg University, who was called in by Swiss authorities to help in the emergency.
Boschenski, who left Poland in the early 1940s and speaks fluent Polish, was seen being driven through police lines to the embassy shortly before noon yesterday, and was driven out an hour later. He was reported to have met the leader of the occupiers, and was said to have continued discussions with him by telephone afterward.
No details of these conversations were provided by Swiss officials, who appeared to be still uncertain about the identity or even the number of the gunmen inside the embassy.
Hubacher said there are at least two and perhaps as many as five in the armed group. He declined comment on how the occupiers are armed and on public statements by the gunmen that they are armed with heavy machine guns and 55 pounds of dynamite.
Boschenski was reported to have glimpsed the hostages while inside the embassy, but Hubacher also declined to describe what the former professor saw.
The group's leader calls himself Col. Wysocki, a common Polish name. In phone calls to reporters he has claimed to be descended from Piotr Wysocki, a Polish national hero who led a rebellion of Polish cadets against Russian occupiers in 1830.
In an interview published yesterday in the Vienna newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Wysocki presented himself as a former Polish Army officer who resigned after martial law was declared in December. He said his accomplices are either active or former Army officers who had illegally made their way from Poland through Czechoslovakia and Austria with him a week ago.
Wysocki said the selection of the embassy in Bern had been random, adding that Polish institutions "are threatened in all those countries still maintaining diplomatic relations with Warsaw."
Wysocki reiterated threats to blow up the embassy if the group's demands are not met, describing the hostages as "not children but agents of the military regime."
"If they are capable of working for that dictatorship," Wysocki told the Vienna paper, "then they must also assume the risk of dying for it."
"My comrades and I are determined to die here in order to give a signal for the fight against dictatorship," Wysocki was quoted as saying.
Wysocki has called his group the Home Army -- Front of National Liberation, which he has described as an "anti-Communist paramilitary organization" without connections to the suspended trade union Solidarity in Poland or to the Committee for Worker Self-Defense (known in Polish as KOR), the disbanded Polish dissident group whose leadership advises the union.
Solidarity spokesmen in Europe have denied ever hearing of the group and have been at pains to distance the union from the embassy seizure. The attack on the embassy is seen by a number of union officials as doing damage to Solidarity's cause and to efforts to relieve the martial law repression imposed in Poland nine months ago.
From Warsaw, Washington Post correspondent Michael Dobbs reported that the martial law government was pressing a propaganda campaign accusing "extremists from Solidarity" of being behind the embassy seizure.
Poland's military leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, set up a task force to coordinate handling of the crisis. The head of the task force, Deputy Foreign Minister Jozef Wiejacz, said in a radio interview that Poland had authorized Swiss police to storm the embassy if necessary.
Poland also asked the Swiss for permission to send a "special group" to Bern to work with Swiss officials for release of the hostages, Warsaw Radio reported.
Swiss authorities maintained an exceptionally unobtrusive police presence in the elegant suburb of Elfanau where the embassy is located.
The main Swiss security force surrounding the embassy, reportedly composed of a special city police unit known as the Grenadiere plus an elite squad called Stern, remained out of public sight for the most part. Occasionally a small unit of commandos, wearing blue-gray jumpsuits and dark green or black berets and carrying small machine pistols, was glimpsed by the reporters and television cameramen being kept a couple of blocks from the embassy.
But behind the surface calm, a special 24-member task force of senior Swiss officials, headed by Justice Minister Kurt Furgler, was reported in constant session throughout the day, trying to find a way out of this delicate and potentially explosive situation.
[In Washington, State Department spokesman John Hughes deplored the embassy seizure, saying, "We have consistently condemned terrorist actions wherever and whenever they have occurred, regardless of the specific cause that has motivated them."]