The auxiliary bishop of San Salvador stated his opposition to negotiations with the kidnapers of the daughter of President Jose Napoleon Duarte today, saying it would be "a death blow to democracy."
The statement by Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez was considered significant because the church has acted in the past as a mediator between the government and leftist guerrillas who are presumed to have carried out the Sept. 10 abduction of Ines Guadalupe Duarte Duran, 35, and a companion, Ana Cecilia Villeda, 23.
Rosa Chavez said in his weekly homily that he could understand why journalists and others are working to find out what the kidnapers are demanding in exchange for returning the two women, who were kidnaped as they arrived for class at a local college.
However, Rosa Chavez continued, "We also share the opinion of Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez that if we once give in to the temptation of negotiation through blackmail and terror, we would be giving a death blow to democracy."
Government officials have been silent on developments in the case since last Tuesday, when Communications Minister Julio Rey Prendes returned empty-handed from what he said was an effort to learn more about the kidnapers through the guerrillas' political leaders, who are based in Mexico.
Salvadoran and diplomatic sources, however, said there were at least four contacts before Tuesday with a group that calls itself the Pedro Pablo Castillo Front, believed to be linked to the most radical of the five groups of the leftist guerrilla coalition, the Popular Liberation Front.
The first contact was a Sept. 13 telephone call, the sources said, in which a man instructed Duarte to listen to a particular shortwave radio frequency often used by airlines. At 2 p.m. Friday, voices on that frequency told Duarte they wanted direct and secret contact with him. They played a tape recording in which Ines Duarte was heard saying, "I'm fine, Papa. Cecilia is fine, and she is here with me."
Duarte was instructed to obtain three military walkie-talkie radios used for coded messages and prepare to send them somewhere through the Salvadoran Red Cross.
On Saturday, Sept. 14, the sources said, the voices identified themselves as "The Pedro Pablo Castillo Front of the FMLN," the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrilla coalition. They demanded that Duarte suspend all military operations, halt house-to-house searches and arrests, and ban further news reports on the kidnaping.
They then instructed him to send two radios at 4 p.m. on Saturday to the abandoned town of Rosario Tablon, deep in an area of heavy guerrilla activity near Tenancingo, about 25 miles but more than two hours by dirt road northeast of the capital. However, "purely by accident," the sources said, a military helicopter flew over the meeting point just before 4 p.m., and no one showed up to meet with the Red Cross messengers.
On Monday, Sept. 16, the guerrillas played another tape of Ines Duarte's voice and rescheduled the radio drop for Tuesday at the town of Guarjila in the northern province of Chalatenango. The radios were delivered, along with a package of personal items for Ines Duarte, which the guerrillas refused to accept, the sources said.
Since then, "one may assume there have been contacts and demands," including the release of prominent guerrilla prisoners, one source said, but details remain unavailable.
Military officials said antiguerrilla operations are continuing normally. "Duarte must think as a father, but he must act as a president," one said.