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Honduras Launches Bomb, Rocket Attack on Nicaragua

March 18, 1988

TECUGICALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A military official said Honduran troops were moving along the rugged frontier today and warplanes were on standby to oust Nicaraguan soldiers.

On Thursday, Honduran warplanes fired bombs and rockets at Nicaraguan army targets along the border. The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry blamed Washington and delivered a formal protest to the United States.

There were conflicting reports about the raids.

Reagan administration officials said a Sandinista army helicopter in Nicaragua was destroyed, but Nicaragua denied that.

Honduras said its air force fired rockets only inside its own territory.

The United States deployed 3,200 U.S. troops after reported incursions into Honduras by Nicaraguan soldiers pursuing Contra rebels. They included 700 paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, N.C., who dropped into Honduras today from eight aircraft, said Pentagon spokeswoman Capt. Nancy LaLuntas.

A high-ranking Honduran military official said Honduran troops had orders to expel the ″invading troops″ from Nicaragua and that warplanes were on standby.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said an estimated 1,000 Sandinistas were reported today on the Honduran side of border at San Andres de Bocay. The Nicaraguan side is the site of Sandinista military headquarters in northern Nicaragua.

The official said two infantry batallions of 1,600 to 2,000 soldiers were moving into the region from a base at Juticalpa, about 90 miles to the west. He said warplanes were on call from the Tamara base just north of the capital.

On Thursday, Honduran military spokesman Manuel Suarez said the Honduran air force launched air raids on the Honduran side of the frontier at San Andres de Bocay.

Reporters flown to San Andres de Bocay saw two unidentified jet planes roar in from Honduras just after noon and drop at least five bombs near the border.

In a telephone interview, Suarez said Honduras rockets destroyed a Nicaraguan helicopter on a dirt landing strip inside Honduras.

Suarez did not identify the type of helicopter destroyed.

He said Nicaraguan forces launched a SAM-7 rocket at the Honduran jets but the missile missed its target and the Hondurans fired retaliatory rockets.

In Washington, sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said one Soviet- made helicopter was damaged on the ground in Nicaragua. The Soviet Union has been supplying the Sandinistas with military hardware.

In Managua, the Defense Ministry denied that any of its fleet of more than 40 military helicopters had been destroyed.

Reagan administration officials say Nicaraguan troops penetrated Honduran territory in pursuit of the Contras late Tuesday.

President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua has neither confirmed nor denied that, but he said Nicaragua would continue its Contra offensive in the border region, which began March 8.

When he heard of the Honduran attack, Ortega abruptly left a meeting with representatives of opposition parties in Managua. Foreign minister Miguel D’Escoto said Ortega had sent a diplomtic note to Secretary of State George P. Shultz to formally protest the raid.

Earlier, Ortega said his army was ″ready to combat and liquidate the famous forces of the 82nd Airborne Division.″

Lt. Col. Javier Carrion, deputy chief of the Sandinista army’s general staff, said the Sandinistas had pushed 1,800 rebels back into Honduras. The Sandinista forces totaled 4,500 troops, he said.

The Nicaraguan government had said 6,000 Contras have been operating within its borders nationwide. Carrion said the offensive caught the rebels ″totally by surprise.″

Charles Barclay, press officer for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, said the deployment of American troops to Palmerola air force base, about 50 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa, was continuing today.

Two battalions from the 82nd Airborne Division of Fort Bragg, N.C., and two battalions from the 7th Light Infantry Division of Fort Ord, Calif., were combined into a task force of roughly 3,000 troops.

It was the the most dramatic show of U.S. force since the Contras began fighting in Nicaragua and it came in response to a request for help from President Jose Azcona Hoyo of Honduras.

In Washington, the Defense Department said nine helicopter gunships were flown in for the U.S. exercise.

Palmerola air base is about 125 miles west of the area where Reagan administration officials say the hostilities were taking place.

Maj. Gen. Carl W. Stiner, commander of the 82nd Airborne, said he knew of no plan to have U.S. troops enter into fighting between Sandinistas and Contras.

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