Leader of Indian rebels claims attacks intensifying
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Indian rebels have stepped up their attacks against Nicaragua’s Sandinista army, killing 201 soldiers and wounding 31 in battles during December, according to their military commander, Adan Artola.
He said 15 Miskito Indian guerrillas were killed in the clashes and 20 were wounded.
Most of the fighting occurs in remote areas and Artola’s claims could not be verified independently.
Artola, in an interview Monday, said the Indians usually use ambushes to engage their enemy, and that accounted for the disproportionate ratio of casualties.
In one battle, Indian forces attacked a Sandinista garrison 25 miles north of Puerto Cabezas, killing 15 soldiers and destroying the facility, Artola said. He reported the Indians suffered two killed.
Puerto Cabezas is on the Caribbean coast, 300 miles northeast of Managua, the Nicaraguan capital.
Artola is the military chieftain of KISAN - Nicaraguan Coast Indian Unity - and he claims he has 4,000 fighters. Some independent observers believe that figure is exaggerated.
He said about 2,500 are armed, mostly with Soviet-made AK-47 automatic rifles captured from the Sandinstas.
They operate out of bases in Honduras and Nicaragua and one objective is to regain their traditional autonomy.
Artola said the Sandinistas have posted about 5,800 soldiers along the Coco River, which runs betweend Honduras and Nicaragua and where most of the skirmishes with the Indian insurgents have occurred.
In 1982, the government began forcibly removing the Miskito Indians from their homelands along the Coco River. Their crops and homes were burned to create a free-fire zone and remove civilian support for the rebels.
Artola said that last year the government began moving the Indians back, and by the end of the year, 12,500 Miskito Indians had returned to the Coco River area on the Nicaraguan side.
″There are serious problems out there,″ he said. ″They have no food or medicine. There is no source of work or circulation of money.″
″The Sandinistas are putting the Indian back ... and giving him a machete,″ he added. ″But how can he attain his previous level? How can he get back his cows, his schools, his property? The Sandinistas have put us back 50 years.″
Last year, the U.S. Congress authorized $27 million in ″humanitarian assistance″ to the Nicaraguan rebels, and Artola said some of that aid has been received and is helping provide the guerrillas with food, medicines and other staples.
He said Indian rebel leaders have been talking with private sources in Europe and in the United States, and they expect to receive money to buy weapons. He refused to name the sources, but said some important ones are in Spain and in France.
The largest anti-Sandinista rebel group is the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, which claims to have 20,000 fighters.
Both the Democratic Force and KISAN have offices in Tegucigalpa and are members of the United Nicaraguan Opposition.