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U.S. Legislators Inquire about National Guard Exercises in Honduras

February 13, 1986 GMT

TAMARA ARMY BASE, Honduras (AP) _ Officials from several U.S. states are traveling to this Central American country to find out why U.S. National Guardsmen are taking part in war games conducted with Honduras.

Politicians from Oregon and Mississippi have arrived in recent days, and more are due from Arkansas and Michigan.

Oregon state Sen. Jeanette Hanby, a Republican, said she sees the maneuvers as a form of pressure on the government of Nicaragua, which borders Honduras.

″I don’t believe in military intervention in a country that has had a popular election, has elected a president and wants their own sovereignty,″ Ms. Hanby said, referring to Nicaragua.

Oregon state Rep. Bill Markham, a Republican, disagreed.

″If the Guard were ever nationalized (sent to war), heaven forbid, they would be better prepared if they train in the terrain, language and customs of where they may be sent,″ said Markham as he watched guardsmen and Honduran airborne soldiers storm a hill while firing automatic weapons.

This week, about 950 National Guardsmen are in Honduras, a country that U.S.-supported rebels use as a base of operations for their efforts to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. Guardsmen are being trained here in large numbers for the first time.

Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbit, a Democrat who recently agreed to let 65 guardsmen from his state help build a military highway in Honduras, earlier this week in Phoenix criticized the idea of having guardsmen take part in military exercises.

″The issue here is our soldiers are being placed in a position where they may be killed in order to create a pretext for a war,″ he said.

The United States maintains a permanent force of about 1,100 active duty troops at Palmerola Air Base in central Honduras to help coordinate the military exercises, conducted almost without interruption since 1982.

More than 15,000 Americans have participated in the maneuvers since 1983.

The Americans have practiced rappelling, laying ambushes and conducting assaults, U.S. military officials said.

Oregon recently sent 177 Army National Guard troops, who were working alongside 150 Honduran paratroopers, for two weeks of exercises in the sun- baked mountains 50 miles northwest of the Nicaraguan border.

Troops from Texas conducted war games five miles from Nicaragua’s border last year.

The U.S. Congress last year approved $27 million in so-called non-lethal aid for the Nicaraguan rebels, known as Contras. The Reagan administration reportedly will push for approval this year of $100 million, inclduing military aid.

The Reagan administration says the aid to the Contras is justified because of the Sandinistas’ close ties to Cuba and the Soviet Union since coming to power in July 1979, and their alleged efforts to promote revolutionary movements elsewhere in the region.

The Oregon legislators questioned U.S. military officers about why the maneuvers involving their guardsmen were held in Honduras, not in Oregon.

Lt. Steven Muhr, a company commander of the Oregon contingent, said the exercise provided training unattainable in Oregon because soldiers could be sent thousands of miles away on short notice and operate in an ″austere, remote environment.″

Recently, about 150 National Guardsmen from Arkansas were conducting war maneuvers in eastern Honduras near Mocoron, about 15 miles from the Nicaraguan border, said Air Force Capt. Felicia Tovares, a U.S. military public relations officer.

Miskito Indian guerrillas trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government launch raids into Nicaragua from jungle-covered eastern Honduras near the Caribbean coast.

Eight miles north of Tamara, about 150 National Guardsmen from Pennsylvania were conducting artillery exercises. The exercises will involve 2,000 guardsmen and active-duty troops, according to Ms. Tovares.

National Guardsmen from Arkansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Oregon and active-duty U.S. Army soldiers from North Carolina, California and Georgia will take part in the exercises, said Arthur Skop, U.S. Embassy spokesman.

In a separate exercise called ″Terencio Sierro ’86,″ which began in January, guardsmen began a road-building project in north-central Honduras that eventually will involve 5,000 Guardsmen from Missouri, North Dakota, Arizona, California and Alabama, officials have said.