Honduras Mops Up at Nicaraguan Border
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Honduran soldiers patrolled a broad stretch of the country’s southeastern border with Nicaragua on Saturday, looking for stragglers from what Honduras said was a large Sandinista invasion force.
Sources in Tegucigalpa, who demanded anonymity, reported only light contact between units of Honduras’ Task Force 7 and fleeing Sandinistas.
″We have reports of observations (of Nicaraguan soldiers) and some very minor clashes, but no reports of casualties,″ said one well-placed source.
The source said Honduran troops probably would stay in the area another week or two.
The Honduran task force was airlifted in Wednesday aboard 14 U.S. helicopters flown by American crews.
Unconfirmed reports said meanwhile that most of the U.S.-backed, anti- Sandinista rebel forces in the area had returned to their bases in what is known as the Las Vegas triangle.
The triangle, about 150 miles east of Tegucigalpa, is a large, rugged area that juts into Nicaragua along the two countries’ poorly defined, mountainous common border.
The region formerly housed the headquarters of the Nicaraguan rebels, known as Contras. It takes its name from their Las Vegas camp, which was moved last year.
Sources said Friday that most of the Nicaraguans - variously estimated at from 1,200 to 2,500 men - who were said to have invaded this Central American nation had escaped back across the border.
Lt. Col. Danilo Carvajal Molina, commander of the Honduran task force, said Honduras first became aware of the incursion March 19 when a Honduran helicopter was shot down in the triangle.
On March 23, the colonel said, about 800 members of a Nicaraguan invading force attacked a major Contra training camp about 12 miles inside Honduras.
Other sources said the attackers penetrated to the camp’s inner defensive perimeter in four assaults before being driven away by about 700 defenders.
Those sources, also speaking on the condition of not being identified, said about 200 Sandinistas were killed, 16 captured and others injured.
They put Contra dead at about 40, and said most casualties for both sides occurred in the training camp attack.
Most Honduran military and government officials were away from the capital for the Easter weekend, and spokesmen in Tegucigalpa for the rebels’ Nicaraguan Democratic Force could not be reached.
Nicaragua first denied its troops crossed the border. But President Daniel Ortega and Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto refused to say directly Friday if Sandinista troops entered Honduras while chasing Contras back across the border.