Members of the special Honduran antiterrorist unit known as the Cobras have been moved into positions near this city's Chamber of Commerce building while gunmen demanding the removal of all U.S. advisers from Honduras and the release of political prisoners here remained holed up with two Cabinet ministers and more than 80 business leaders as hostages.
At a news conference this afternoon, Col. Daniel Bali Castillo, chief of the Honduran Public Security Forces, acknowledged the presence of the Cobras, but he declined to speculate about the possibility of an armed assault while negotiations continue.
Meanwhile, U.S. Army officers attached to the embassy in Tegucigalpa, the capital, arrived here during the second day of the siege to meet with local Honduran commander Col. Roberto Martinez Avila, but they would not say to what extent they are advising the Hondurans on operations here.
The key guerrilla demand is the release of more than 60 political prisoners and people who have disappeared, many of them Salvadorans believed captured by Honduran forces.
Bali Castillo categorically denied that Honduras "as a democratic country" has any political prisoners. But he did say that more than 20 Salvadorans have been deported this month, some of whom may have had false identity papers.
Bali Castillo added that it is possible Salvadoran guerrilla commander Alejandro Montenegro was among those turned over to Salvadoran immigration authorities, although under a different name. The Salvadoran rebels announced on their radio today that the name Montenegro was using appeared on a Honduran government communique listing deportees. Montenegro's capture in Tegucigalpa last month, reported by the guerrillas, appears to have been the immediate provocation for the takeover.
The heavily armed guerrillas, who have identified themselves as members of the Cinchonero Popular Liberation Movement seized the Chamber of Commerce building Friday evening during a special meeting on the economy addressed by the Honduran economic and treasury ministers and the head of the central bank, all of whom were taken prisoner.
Since then, the guerrillas have released 21 men and women--including those sick or wounded--four of whom were freed tonight. Another three have escaped, two of them early this morning. While figures vary, as many as 85 are believed still inside in the control of about 10 gunmen.
Thus far the hostages appear to have been well treated, despite the terrorists' threat to start killing the most prominent among them if their demands are not met.
When the terrorists first burst in, "they shot the lock to open it, not to wound anyone, I think," said Jose Antonio Castellanos, an adviser of the Chamber of Commerce and former director general of internal trade who was one of those released yesterday when he persuaded his captors he was just another of the chamber employes.
Two businessmen were wounded and released after the initial shooting. Castellanos said that contrary to earlier reports he knew of no one being killed and no guerrillas appeared to have been injured.
Everyone was at first forced to lie face down on the floor, but after two or three hours the hostages were allowed to walk around, drink water and eat.
In addition to the automatic rifles they carried, Castellanos recalled they told him that their small boxes labeled "medicines" were in fact full of dynamite.
"With so many people inside there I think the government will have to give up something," said Castellanos. Thus far the government has seemed more inclined to talk than to fight. A Venezuelan diplomat acting as one of the negotiators said this morning he believed the talks were "going well" but refused to give any details.
The guerrillas take their unusual name from a 19th century Honduran peasant leader, but their specific ransom demands have a decidedly regional flavor. In their first "communique" they insist on an end to the Honduran Army's alleged cooperation with the Salvadoran Army and the "dismantling" of base camps in Honduras used by Nicaraguan exiles fighting the leftist revolutionary government in Managua.
The gunmen here also would require the "expulsion of gringo, Israeli, Chilean and Argentine" military advisers. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said this afternoon that less than 10 American military trainers are currently in the country but that is because it is the end of the fiscal year. The spokesman noted that at some points in recent months as many as 96 U.S. advisers were working in Honduras.
The United States gave Honduras $20.6 million in military aid in fiscal year 1982 and will be giving about $35 million in fiscal year 1983.