Secret contacts on `contras'. Honduras, Nicaragua share intelligence to avert war
Honduras has been holding secret military and political talks with Nicaragua's Sandinista government, according to diplomatic and military sources in both countries. In these contacts, Honduras has shared intelligence information about the United States-backed Nicaraguan ``contra'' rebels with the Sandinistas. And Nicaragua has indirectly warned Honduras before attacking contra bases inside this country, the sources say.Skip to next paragraph
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The reason that the pro-US Hondurans are talking to the Soviet-backed Sandinistas, the sources say, is that both countries want to avoid going to war over the contras, who are trying to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist Sandinistas.
The Honduran military does not want to fight the superior Sandinista Army, and Nicaraguan leaders fear such a conflict could give Washington a pretext to invade their country.
``It's logical that there is direct communication,'' a Honduran political analyst says. ``The Hondurans don't want to clash with the Sandinistas. They understand that it isn't [Honduras's] war, it's the contras' war.''
While the US has not commented on the Honduran-Nicaraguan talks, observers agree that the Reagan administration views the contacts as a threat to its strategy of isolating Nicaragua.
``I don't know what to make of [the reported talks],'' a US Embassy official in Honduras says, ``because I don't know about them.'' But the official expressed skepticism about the reported extent of the bilateral discussions. He suggested that the Sandinistas floated rumors about the negotiations as a propaganda ploy.
The quiet talks, observers say, serve as a safety valve for Honduras, which is trying to balance its desire for peace with Nicaragua with its desire to continue receiving US military and economic assistance. Honduras is Washington's closest ally in Central America and gets more than $200 million a year in US aid.
For the Sandinistas' part, analysts say, aside from the immediate goal of avoiding war with Honduras, the unofficial talks are being used to drive a wedge between the US and Honduras.
The analysts add, however, that the secret talks do not point to an imminent Honduran break with the Reagan administration over the contra issue. But given the rebels' stalled war effort and the US Congress's refusal so far to approve an extra $100 million in contra aid, the Honduras-Nicaragua discussions present another obstacle for President Reagan's troubled Nicaragua policy, they say.
Honduras may have passed along information on contra position and troop strength to the Nicaraguans, foreign observers say. But it is assumed that the Sandinistas probably already have access to such information through their own intelligence network. The observers reason that, although the intelligence shared by the Hondurans does not have much strategic value, it is useful as a gesture aimed at building confidence between the two nations.
Although the Honduran government officially denies it, most of the contras' training camps, airstrips, and hospitals are based in this country. It is widely known that the Honduran military coordinates the delivery of foreign aid to the contras. There is no historical enmity between Honduras and Nicaragua, however, and observers agree that the Honduran military leadership sees the contra war as mainly Washington's fight.