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Killing of Honduran Army officer linked to testimony in US. He tied Honduran intelligence and `contras' to rights abuses

By Dennis VolmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 1985


Divisions in the Honduran Armed Forces have been deepened by the mysterious killing of an influential Honduran Army officer, say sources in Honduras as well as in the United States government and Congress. These divisions could have negative consequences for US policy in Central America, the sources say. Honduras is the US's closest regional ally.

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Both in Honduran civilian and military circles and among many US congressional analysts, there is widespread suspicion that the death of Maj. Ricardo Z'uniga Morazan in Honduras in September is tied to information he gave Senate intelligence committees, congressmen, and ranking congressional staffers earlier this year and in 1984.

In his testimony, Major Z'uniga alleged that Honduran intelligence agents and members of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), a US-backed anti-Nicaraguan government rebel organization, had committed human-rights abuses.

Z'uniga further alleged that at least lower-level US intelligence officials were aware that some Honduran intelligence agents and FDN recipients of US aid were engaged in human-rights abuses.

Whether or not Z'uniga's allegations were true, they are widely believed in Honduran military and civilian circles and by Honduran analysts and US congressional sources. It is also widely believed that Z'uniga's death was tied also to his opposition to the US-backed FDN rebels. According to the official Honduran version, he was murdered by an exiled Cuban businessman who owed him money.

Major Z'uniga belonged to a group of young, reformist officers within the Honduran military. This group of officers has been alienated from US policy and the FDN by the substance of Z'uniga's accusations and by his murder. These officers were the key military group responsible for the overthrow of Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Mart'inez in March 1984, US congressional and Honduran civilian sources say. General Alvarez was the right-wing chief of the armed forces, under whose aegis most of the Hondura n human-rights abuses were allegedly committed.

When the reformist officers tried to dismantle those sections of the Honduran intelligence apparatus responsible for the abuses and jail the Hondurans and FDN members responsible, they were opposed by various officers of the US Central Intelligence Agency, say these same US and Honduran sources.

The reformist officers, who say the FDN was responsible for Z'uniga's death, have further alienated themselves from the older officers in the Honduran Army who tend to follow the US lead and who favor the FDN's presence in Honduras, say these sources.

These events could, in the long run, cause serious difficulties for US policy in Honduras, according to several congressional analysts interviewed.

``The reformist officers who have been alienated by these events are the most dynamic and forward-looking guys in the Honduran Army. They are rapidly rising to the top. What has happened here will not, in the long run, serve US interests,'' a Democratic congressional staffer says.

The officers are, according to promotion procedures, slated to occupy some top positions in the Honduran Army by the end of next year. They want to steer a course more independent of US policy.

The Reagan administration has encouraged the use of Honduras as a base for FDN attacks on Nicaragua, and has enlarged US presence in Honduras by establishing military bases.

The reformist officers' nationalistic policies brought them into conflict with the FDN. The young officers alleged that the armed Nicaraguan exile group was creating a ``state within a state'' in Honduras and that it was guilty of serious human rights abuses against Hondurans.

Up to the time of his murder, Z'uniga also pressed for limiting FDN and CIA presence and influence in Honduras.