Refugees in Honduras Say They Couldn't Survive
Jan. 20, 1987
COLOMONCAGUA, Honduras (AP) _ Salvadorans who fled a war zone to Honduras three weeks ago say they left because government forces bombed their villages and kept food supplies from reaching the area.
The Salvadoran officer they blame denied the bombing. He said traffic in that part of Morazan province, a guerrilla stronghold, had to be restricted because of negotiations with rebels for the release of an army colonel kidnapped in October 1985.
''Col. (Mauricio) Vargas won't let the trucks pass. We were dying of hunger,'' said Rene Chicas, 51, one of 69 Salvadorans who crossed the steep mountains from the northeastern province to this refugee camp just inside Honduras. ''It was the bombs, too, just about every day.''
Damaso Martin, 60, said the trip of about eight miles took three days and three nights on foot. He said guerrillas told them what route to take and provided some food.
More than 8,100 Salvadorans live in the Colomoncagua camp. Most arrived soon after leftist guerrillas began the Salvadoran civil war in late 1979. Before the 69 refugees came, only one had arrived since May.
International refugee workers, Salvadorans in the camp and a Honduran government worker in the town of Colomoncagua said they could see U.S.-built A-37 jet bombers swooping low over the pine-covered mountains nearly every day and hear explosions in villages about two miles away.
Col. Vargas acknowledged that soldiers prevented goods from heading north to the area around Perquin, eight miles from the border, but said: ''It was not done out of the desire to cause harm.'' He spoke in a weekend telephone interview from his command post at San Francisco Gotera.
Vargas said trucks were stopped because of sensitive negotiations between the government and rebels about the kidnapped officer, Col. Omar Avalos.
''We can't just let anyone or anything go up there,'' Vargas said. ''If we do, the FMLN (rebels) will say I, Colonel Vargas, broke the negotiations.'' He added that eight supply trucks sent by the Roman Catholic church were allowed in last week.
The church has been mediating the talks between the U.S.-backed government of Preesident Jose Napoleon Duarte and the rebel Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.
Reports of almost daily bombings were ''totally false,'' Vargas declared. He said there were three bombings in the region during the last 45 days of 1986 and had been only three others between October 1985 and October 1986.
Perquin and environs has been considered a guerrilla stronghold for years. In 1986, the army began running larger and longer operations there, taking over the town and occupying the bombed-out shells of adobe houses.
When the military leaves, the rebels return.
''It got to the point where we couldn't live,'' Chicas said.''Maybe I could take 10 pounds of corn to my village, but that wasn't enough for a week. Then the soldiers would come and look for the guerrillas, but when they wouldn't find them they'd question us.''
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which runs the Colomancagua camp, said the 69 refugees arrived together at the end of December.
Martin said: ''We suffered with the war. ... Then we had nothing to eat. The helicopters flew low and fired all around us. We asked the colonel for help and he gave us explosions.''
Asked whether he sympathized with the rebels, Martin shrugged and said: ''Look, we don't have any trouble with them. Both sides have guns. When the soldiers come we do what they say. When the others come we listen to them. But the guerrillas fight for the poor. The army takes from us.''
Salvadoran and Honduran officials claim that many people in the Colomoncagua camp are guerrillas taking leaves from battle and that others there sympathize with the rebels.
Vargas, ranked by U.S. military officials among the best Salvadoran officers, said: ''If these people say they are starving, what do they have for the army to take from them? And if there is a problem, let them come to the police or the high command to investigate. That's just a camp for the guerrillas to rest.''