Sandinista Newspaper Says Honduran Aircraft Fired Upon
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Government troops fired artillery and rockets at Honduran military aircraft that violated Nicaraguan airspace near the border, an official newspaper reported Thursday. Honduras denied the report.
Barricada, the newspaper of the governing Sandinista party, said the Honduran aircraft were not hit.
The paper accused Honduras of escalating tensions between the two countries by flying over Nicaraguan territory. A Nicaraguan Defense Ministry spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Hondurans ″provoked″ Nicaraguan troops into shooting at the aircraft.
The newspaper also said the Defense Ministry reported two shooting incidents Tuesday between Nicaraguan and Honduran troops. It said Honduran troops ″harassed″ two Nicaraguan border observation posts with 50- and 60- caliber machine gun fire.
In the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, armed forces spokesman Juan Sierra Fonseca called the Barricada reports ″absolutely false and alarming because they generate tensions in Central America.″
Eugenio Castro, spokesman with the Honduran Foreign Ministry, also denied both Barricada reports and called them ″absurd.″
Barricada said a helicopter gunship and an F-5 fighter jet from the Honduran air force and a twin-engine plane without identification recently flew over the border towns of Santo Tomas del Nance, San Pedro de Potrero Grande and Somotillo. It did not say when the incident took place.
The report quoted Maj. Leonel Martinez, military commander for the Nicaraguan provinces of Chinandega and Leon, as saying Sandinista army troops fired on the intruders with artillery and rockets but failed to hit them.
Barricada said the incident heightened the possibility of a military confrontation between Honduras and Nicaragua.
Leftist Nicaragua and Honduras, a U.S. ally, have been at odds for years over the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels known as Contras. The Contras have long used Honduran territory to launch attacks on Nicaragua and for training, supply and base camps.
Since the end of overt U.S. military aid last February and a truce that began in March, the bulk of the Contra force has been holed up in camps inside Honduras near the border.
But Nicaraguan officials have reported a series of border incidents, including incursions or attempted incursions.
Martinez said the navy sank six Honduran boats trying to enter Nicaraguan waters in the Gulf of Fonseca on Aug. 20. The gulf divides Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador. He said a Sandinista army officer, Lt. Pablo Blanco Torres, died in the incident.
Barricada said armed U.S. vessels are common in the gulf.
The newspaper quoted another regional military commander, Col. Carlos Brenes, as saying Contras have tried to cross into Nicaraguan near the town of Palo Grande in Chinandega province.
Brenes was quoted as saying Honduran troops have been harassing the border post at Palo Grande to provide cover for Contra rebels sneaking into Nicaragua from Honduras.
Brenes said the Hondurans have increased their troop strength in the area, reinforcing the 101st Infantry Brigade and an armored regiment. He said the Sandinista army has not responded with ″any unusal military mobilization.″