Sources Say Nicaraguan Forces Leave Honduras With AM-Honduras-Sandinistas, Bjt
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Informed sources said Friday the Nicaraguan troops that invaded Honduras last week in pursuit of Nicaraguan rebels have withdrawn back across the border, leaving behind only a few stragglers.
The sources in Tegucigalpa said the invading force left behind an estimated 200 Sandinista soldiers dead, 16 captured and an undetermined number of wounded in its retreat through the jungle mountains of southeastern Honduras. They said about 40 rebels were killed in the fighting.
Honduran officials had estimated the invasion force at about 1,500 troopser.
″The Sandinistas suffered a considerable number of wounded which they have managed to evacuate back to Nicaragua,″ possibly with the help of Soviet-made MI-8 helicopters, one of the sources said.
″We think all of the major units have withdrawn from Nicaragua, although there are some stragglers left in Honduras,″ he added.
In Washington, a senior Defense Department official said Nicaragua had been conducting ″a significant withdrawal″ but that he could not estimate how many Sandinista troops remained inside Honduras.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Honduran government of the reported withdrawal.
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate approved a modified version of President Reagan’s proposal for $100 million in aid to the Nicaraguan rebels, known as Contras. The package now returns to the Democrat-controlled House for action. The House last week narrowly defeated the plan.
The Defense Department source, who spoke with the condition of anonymity, said the Sandinistas were withdrawing because ″they saw the handwriting on the wall and realized the Congress is going to provide assistance to the Contras.″
Meanwhile, in Managua, the Nicaraguan capital, there were reports of heavy fighting between Nicaraguan troops and Contras near Teotecacinte, a Nicaraguan border town not far from where last week’s reported incursion took place.
Nicaragua continued to deny that its army had penetrated Honduran territory, but a communique from the Defense Ministry in Managua Thursday said Sandinista forces had destroyed ″a principal center of (rebel) training″ and shot down a helicopter.
The communique did not say where the action took place, but in the past Nicaragua has maintained that the Contras have their main bases in Honduras.
Honduras has said the invading force shot down one of its helicopters on March 19 before attacking a major Contra training camp in an area known as the Las Vegas Triangle, about 150 miles east of Tegucigalpa, last Sunday.
The informed sources here said that only about 800 members of the Sandinista force reached the training camp and launched four assaults before dawn last Sunday that were repulsed by the camp’s 700 defenders. According to the sources, other troops in the assault force didn’t reach their objective because they ran into Contra or Honduran army patrols and fled.
The sources also said the Nicaraguan force may have been even larger than originally thought.
″Based on prisoner interrogations, captured documents and other intelligence, we now have information that the number of Sandinistas may have been as high as 2,500,″ one of the sources said.
The sources said the invading force was made up of elements of the Herman Pomares and Francisco Estrada Light Infantry Battalions, the Wiwili Brigade, the Cristobal Vanegas Border Guard Battalion and a fifth, unidentified unit.
″From what we know of the Sandinista order of battle and what we’ve learned from intelligence sources, we are led to believe that if all of these units attacked at full strength, which is how they usually operate, then we’re talking about something like 2,500 men,″ one source said.
The sources said virtually all of the fighting inside Honduras had been between the Sandinista and Contra forces, with most of the casualties on both sides occurring in the attack on the rebel training camp.
Between 500 and 600 Honduran soldiers were airlifted by U.S. helicopters to the western edge of the combat zone on Wednesday, where they reinforced elements of two Honduran battalions.
″I understand they (the Hondurans) have encountered minefields and have observed some Sandinistas, perhaps stragglers,″ said the source. ″But they have not been engaged in actual combat.″