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Salvador, Nicaragua exchange fire in Fonseca Gulf

Salvadorean and Nicaraguan Navy patrol boats have exchanged fire several times in the Gulf of Fonseca, says the commander of the Navy base here. Capt. Corbeta Fernando Menjivar told Monitor contributor Chris Hedges that El Salvador's Navy has injured Nicaraguans in these exchanges, but that there have been no Salvadorean casualties.

The gunfire exchanges took place in the Gulf of Fonseca along the 12-mile limit off the Nicaraguan coast, Captain Menjivar says. Salvadorean Navy patrols the Gulf of Fonseca in five rapid assault craft.

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''The guerrillas here (in El Salvador) were able to get supplies by boat from Nicaragua up until two years ago,'' Captain Menjivar says, ''but with the increase in our naval assault craft, better patroling systems, and training from US advisers, the coast has been pretty much sealed off. Very little material from Nicaragua gets to the Salvador guerrillas by sea.''

But supplies and weapons are flown in to the guerrillas in light aircraft from Potosi, a coastal town in Nicaragua, Menjivar says.

The port at Potosi was raided at least three times in one week in January by planes and rapid assault craft firing rockets and machine guns. Menjivar denies any knowledge of the Potosi raids.

But he says the ''guerrillas have small airstrips in the north, where these planes (bearing arms from Potosi) land. We hear them pass overhead at night and have opened our antiaircraft guns on them, but have yet to down one of these planes.''

In a separate incident Sunday, guerrillas downed two Army helicopters near San Gerardo, killing 28 soldiers. The helicopters were transporting soldiers to battlefield positions.

Eyewitnesses say the lead helicopter was struck by a rocket. The helicopter following behind hit the wounded ship and both crashed. The incident reduced the Salvadorean Army supply of ''Huey'' helicopters to 19. Increased military aid requested by the Reagan administration is expected, in part, to be used to add 10 helicopters to the fleet.

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