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US Ambassador To Honduras Being Replaced

July 1, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The U.S. ambassador to Honduras, John Ferch, is being replaced after less than a year in his post, the State Department said Monday night.

The State Department did not announce the move, but department spokeswoman Sondra McCarty said in response to a question that Ferch would be leaving sometime during the summer.

She said she had no information on why he was being replaced, saying only that ″the changes are based on the needs of the U.S. government.″

McCarty denied in a telephone interview that the move was due to any disagreement between Ferch and with administration officials.

″This change does not reflect policy differences, for there were none,″ she said. ″Nor does it reflect any disruption of our close bilateral relationship with Honduras, which continues to be excellent.″ Honduras serves as the staging ground for the U.S.-backed Contra rebels trying to topple the leftist government of Nicaragua. The Pentagon says the permanant U.S. military presence in Honduras has remained at between 900 and 1,000 for the past several years.

McCarty said she expected Ferch would be moving on to another diplomatic post, but said she had no information on what it would be. She also said she did not know who would replace him.

″We have nothing on his replacement, and nothing on his new assignment,″ she said.

Ferch, a career diplomat, was sworn in last July, and arrived in Honduras in August. He had headed the U.S. diplomatic mission in Cuba since 1982 and served previously in Mexico City.

Ferch replaced John Negroponte, during whose three-year stay as ambassador the United States had developed close military ties with Honduras. There was intense debate at the time over who would replace Negroponte because of the strategic importance Honduras had taken on.

″Ambassador Ferch has contributed significantly to the Honduran democratic process and to the continued strength of close and friendly relations,″ McCarty said.

In Tegucigalpa, the U.S. Embassy said in a brief statement that Ferch was being ″relieved of his post″ but did not elaborate. Michael O’Brian, an embassy spokesman, said there were no known complaints from Honduran officials about Ferch’s performance.

CBS Radio quoted State Department sources as saying Ferch was leaving for personal reasons. Efforts to reach Ferch were unsuccessful.

Arthur Skop, an embassy spokesman, said the ambassador’s departure had ″absolutely nothing″ to do with alleged misuse by the Honduran military of U.S. funds for the Nicaraguan rebels.

Congressional investigators said in June that nearly $1.2 million in U.S. humanitarian aid went to ″the armed forces″ of a Central American country, later identified as Honduras.

But the State Department called the congressional findings erroneous and the Honduran military denied that any of its officers received money from a $27 million U.S. aid package intended for the Nicaraguan rebels.

The State Department’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance office has acknowledged difficulty in fully accounting for the aid, but has insisted that food, clothing and medicines are arriving at rebel camps.

The allegations of aid being diverted were raised last week in debate before the House approved President Reagan’s $100 million package of mostly military aid for the Contras.

The Nicaraguan rebels maintain an office in Tegucigalpa and clandestine bases near the Nicaraguan border in their four-year-old fight against the Sandinistas.

Honduran President Jose Azcona was in Washington a month ago for meetings with President Reagan, and the administration pledged ″effective and timely″ assistance if Honduras were the target of ″communist aggression.″

The reference to ″communist aggression″ made it clear the United States would be ready to assist Honduras in the event of an attack by Nicaragua, its neighbor to the south.

Since taking office four months ago, Azcona pleased the administration by becoming one of the few Latin American leaders to endorse, at least tacitly, U.S. assistance to Nicaraguan rebels.

Honduras has been ambivalent about the thousands of Contras who have been using its territory for years as a launching pad for attacks against the leftist Sandinista government. Honduran officials have been nervous about the proximity of the Sandinistas, but have tried to avoid provoking them.

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