Honduran Army Displays Sandinista Bodies At Border Area
CAPIRE, Honduras (AP) _ The Honduran army displayed the bodies of five men it said were Nicaraguan soldiers and dozens of Soviet-style weapons Thursday at this dusty camp about six miles north of the Nicaraguan border.
About 70 reporters, photographers and cameramen were taken to the camp in two Chinook helicopters flown by Americans in an attempt by the Hondurans to prove their contention that up to 1,500 Nicaraguan soldiers invaded their country last weekend.
Nicaragua has denied its troops entered Honduras, but has said its soldiers are engaged in a battle with rebels near the border. It has said the reports of fighting in Honduras were made to bolster President Reagan’s request for congressional approval of $100 million in aid to the rebels, called Contras.
Lt. Col. Danilo Carbajal Molina said fighting was continuing about six to 10 miles northeast of his camp, but was confined mostly to sporadic encounters.
But Carbajal also said that Nicaraguan was reinforcing its men inside Honduras with MI-8 helicopters.
“I don’t know how many reinforcements or how many new supplies they have brought in,” he said. “But we have reports of Nicaraguan helicopter flights into this zone today.”
The five dead Sandinista soldiers were laid out in a gulley near the helicopter landing pad. They were shirtless and shoeless and covered with flies.
“They were killed within the last 48 hours,” said Maj. Miguel Perez, as he walked down the line of bodies, pausing to kick the feet of each. “They were killed by Honduran troops on our soil not far from here.”
The camp is about 150 miles east of the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, on the western edge of what is called the Las Vegas salient, a triangular-shaped piece of land that juts into Nicaragua along its irregular border with Honduras.
Reporters neither saw nor heard any fighting near Carbajal’s camp, manned by about 500 infantrymen airlifted into the area Wednesday by U.S. helicopters. Carbajal is commanding the battalion-sized group.
But some residents of the area said fighting had been heavy a few days ago.
“There was a day of rockets, and another day of bombs,” said Carla Sevilla, 37, a Honduran peasant woman.
“They were over there,” she said, pointing to a rugged range of forested mountains to the northeast. “It sounded like very heavy fighting.”
Roberto Hernandez, 30, a farmer, also said there had been a lot of fighting nearby. “We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it,” he said.
Just as reporters were arriving in the first of the two helicopters, Gen. John Galvin, head of the U.S. Southern Command, was leaving.
“I’m here to observe on the orders of the president,” Galvin said. “I’m not here to advise. This is a Honduran operation.
“We’ve just finished with the (air) lift and we’re very encouraged with the way everything went.”
An aide said the general was returning to Palmerola air base, a Honduran facility about 50 miles northwest of the capital, and from there would return to his homebase in Panama.
Carbajal said he did not know how many Sandinista soldiers had been killed in the area, about 10 miles from the camp. But when pressed for a figure by reporters, he said, “Perhaps, two dozen, maybe more.”
In Tegucigalpa, the armed forces headquarters had reported earlier in the day that as many as 300 Sandinistas had been killed since they launched their cross-border attack, reportedly chasing Contra rebels fighting the leftist government in Nicaragua. The rebels strike into Nicaragua from bases in southern Honduras.
The captured weapons were displayed on the porch of Carbajal’s command post, a small farmhouse with a red tile roof.
Included in the display were more than 30 AK-47 rifles, four 7.62 caliber machineguns with Soviet markings, a ground-to-air rocket launcher, four ground- to-ground rocket launchers, seven mortar rounds, about 20 RPG rocket shells, boots, knapsacks, mess kits, medical kits and an empty Yugoslavian lunch meat can.
Carbajal said Honduras’ first indication that Sandinista troops had infiltrated the Las Vegas salient came last Thursday when a Honduran army helicopter was shot down just on the northern edge of the wedge-shaped territory.
Later, he said, part of the Sandinista assault force was stopped by a patrol of Contra rebels.
He also said patrols of Honduras’ own 6th and 7th infantry battalions, which are permanently stationed in the region, had come across elements of the invading Nicaraguan force before it staged a major attack against a Contra training base Sunday morning.
Honduras officially has long maintained that Contra camps do not exist on Honduran soil. But a major Contra base and hospital is only two miles up the road from Carbajal’s camp and was clearly visible from the air by reporters as they came and left Thursday afternoon.