The military said today that it had received unconfirmed reports that its troops had wounded or killed key left-wing guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos, but spokesmen for the left denied it.
Villalobos, 33, has been commander of the People's Revolutionary Army, one of El Salvador's two largest guerrilla groups, since 1977. Considered one of the most capable military leaders in the war, the former economics student has led guerrilla forces in the eastern third of the country.
Armed forces spokesman Maj. Carlos Aviles said that an Army reservist was forced by guerrillas to carry a badly wounded insurgent, and that he recognized Villalobos as the wounded man. In addition, villagers in El Jobo in San Miguel province were quoted as saying that another guerrilla leader had visited them April 1 and told them that Villalobos was dead, the spokesman said.
Salvadoran troops may have wounded Villalobos in fighting on Sunday, election day, in the northern part of San Miguel province, Aviles said. "It is thought that he was wounded in that operation," the spokesman said.
But Jorge Villacorta, the left-wing rebel alliance's official representative in Costa Rica, said in a telephone interview that the reports were "absolutely false." Villalobos "is neither wounded nor dead," and the reports are "a classic example of psychological warfare," Villacorta said.
Another prominent left-wing spokesman, Ruben Zamora, also denied that Villalobos had been wounded.