SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- Salvadoran guerrillas stormed the country's largest hydroelectric dam Thursday and killed 60 troops but suffered an equal number of casualties, President Jose Napoleon Duarte said after visiting the battle site.
Rebels of the Popular Liberation Forces, or FPL, stormed the Cerron Grande dam, 25 miles northeast of San Salvador, before dawn and gained control after an hour of fierce fighting against army troops, the rebels' clandestine Radio Venceremos said.
The radio said seven hours after gaining control, guerrilla units withdrew from the dam, which is located in Cabana province north of San Salvador and generates almost half the country's electricity.
Duarte visited the dam Thursday afternoon and said 60 troops died and 60 guerrillas were killed or wounded in the attack. The army reported three civilians were also injured in the attack.
'The guerrillas wanted to take the dam and hold it, but the army acted adequately and recovered the dam. Damages are not considerable and are manageable,' Duarte said.
Duarte said the rebels did not destroy the machine room, but blew up transformers on a substation supplying 20 percent of the nation's power that would take about one month to repair.
It was the heaviest single loss by the army since Dec. 30, last year when rebels briefly captured the 4th Infantary Brigade Fort at El Paraiso, north of the capital, killing more than 100 soldiers and burning the garrison.
The rebels also said they released 120 employees taken hostage during the takeover of the dam.
Radio Venceremos said the guerrillas 'annihilated' one company of soldiers and captured a 120mm mortar in the fighting at the hydroelectric dam.
'We ask (Defense Minister Carlos Eugenio) Vides Casanova and the gringo advisers, 'Who has the military initiative now in El Salvador?'' said Radio Venceremos.
Before withdrawing from the facility, the radio issued a threat to destroy it if the armed forces continued their alleged bombing of thecivilian population living around the dam.
At the height of the battle, residents said U.S.-supplied A-37 'Dragonfly' warjets bombed suspected rebel positions around the Cerron Grande dam, while army helicopters ferried troops of the U.S.-trained elite Ramon Belloso battalion to the region.
Troop movement was hampered because guerrilla forces controlled the highway from San Rafael Cedros to the dam, blocking army and civilian access to the area. The army turned back reporters on the road to the region.
'If the dictatorship continues to bomb the civilian population around the dam, our units will proceed to destroy it,' said the radio station of the five-group guerrilla coalition, the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
Army and civilian reports said combat centered around the towns of San Isidro, San Rafael Cedros, Tejutepeque, Ilobasco and Jutiapa -- all in Cabanas province.
In Nicaragua, Democratic presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson said the Sandinista government expressed its hope that the state of emergency restricting civil liberties would be lifted July 20.
The decree, which restricts political meetings, imposes press censorship and allows jailing of prisoners without charges, has been in effect since March 1982 and a source of criticism by the opposition and Washington.