Nicaragua, Honduras Threaten Each Other Following Clashes
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ After a day of border clashes, President Daniel Ortega called Saturday for an immediate meeting with Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova to prevent further bloodshed.
At the same time, he vowed on national television that ″the people and armed forces of Nicaragua will repel and destroy any foreign aggression.″
He accused neighboring Honduras of trying to provoke U.S. intervention and said Honduras’ actions were the result of pressure by the United States.
The Reagan administration opposes Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government and has supported rebels, called Contras, who are trying to overthrow it.
A Honduran military spokesman said in Tegucigalpa, that nation’s capital, that Honduran warplanes shot down a Nicaraguan helicopter Friday and strafed mortar batteries that had fired into Honduras hours earlier.
Suazo Cordova called the Honduran Congress into urgent session to consider defense. Foreign Minister Edgardo Paz Barnica convened a meeting of the diplomatic corps seeking support for Honduras.
Suazo Cordovo accused Ortega’s Sandinista government on television late Friday of maintaining ″a permanent attitude of harassment against Honduras ....and for that reason I have ordered the armed forces to repel with all energy that aggression.″
The Honduran military spokesman, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, told The Associated Press ″the army still maintains a state of alert on land, sea and air on the border with the neighboring country ... and is prepared to repel any criminal action by the Sandinistas against national territory.″
Capt. Rosa Pasos, spokeswoman for Nicaragua’s Defense Ministry, said Sandinista forces were not on a state of alert.
Honduras moved 2,000 troops to the border Friday before the air attacks. The military spokesman said they remained there Saturday, and air patrol of the area continued.
Ortega, speaking in Managua before 20,000 high school students at a ceremony marking Central American independence, accused the United States of instigating Honduras’ actions.
″We ask them (Honduran government officials) not to assume they will destroy Nicaragua with the help of U.S. troops,″ he said. ″To attack Nicaragua would be to attack Central America, to burn down Nicaragua would be to burn down Central America.″
″These actions are not the expression of the will of the government of Honduras, but they are imposed on it by the government of the United States which is trying to end once and for all the efforts of Contadora,″ he said.
The Contadora group, made up of Mexico, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, is trying to refine a draft peace agreement acceptable to all five Central American nations involved.
Ortega said he was asking Suazo Cordova to meet with him ″in Tegucigalpa or in Managua to put an end to the confrontation, to the military escalation, to prevent our being led by the policies of those who divide Central America.″
A Honduran military spokesman said the Honduran attack came after the Sandinista army fired mortar shells at a Honduran outpost, killing one soldier and wounding eight. The attack was at the village of Espanolito, 11/2 miles inside Honduran territory.
Maj. Ricardo Borjas, spokesman for the Honduras armed forces, said it was inevitable that there were casualties on the Nicaraguan side.
Ortega said Nicaraguan forces were repelling an attack by 800 Contras who tried to invade from Honduras in the area of El Rosario, Boca de Poteca, in the northern province of Nueva Segovia. He said the rebels were supported by Honduran armed forces ground and airplanes.
He said fighting began in the morning and continued until afternoon, when Honduras launched what he called the ″criminal attack″ which he said violated Nicaraguan airspace. Nicaraguan forces returned the fire, he said. He did not mention casualties or the helicopter Honduras claimed to have shot down.
Honduras was trying to provoke a confrontation between the two countries that would provide a pretext for U.S. intervention, Ortega claimed.
Honduras called home its ambassador to Nicaragua, Col. Isidro Tapia Martinez, for consulations about the conflict.
Border clashes between Nicaraguan and Honduran troops over the past six years have killed 60 Honduran civilians and military personnel. The Contras operate from bases in Honduras and at times have been pursued across the border by Nicaraguan troops.
None of the approximately 1,200 U.S. troops based in Honduras were involved in the actions and none have been put on alert, a U.S. Embassy spokesman said in Tegucigalpa.
Honduras and the United States have conducted joint military exercises in Honduras, at times near the Nicaraguan border, since 1983. They have included about 15,000 American troops and nearly all of Honduras’ 21,000-member armed forces.
The Nicaraguan Defense Ministry says the Sandinista Army numbers from 40,000 to 50,000 and that 100,000 to 200,000 militiamen and reservists are armed. Other military sources estimate the army numbers 75,000 and militia and reserves at 30,000 to 40,000.
The Honduran military spokesman said about six A-37 and F-86 planes patrolled the region ″with precise orders to attack ... and eliminate hostile military actions.″