US helicopter was downed in frontier no man's land
The Nicaraguan downing of a US helicopter Wednesday occurred in an area that has become a focal point in the war between Nicaraguan counterrevolutionaries and the Sandinista government, writes Monitor contributor Chris Hedges.
The Honduran government said Sandinistas crossed into Honduran territory to execute the attack on the helicopter, a charge that has surprised most observers who are familiar with the region and the military regulations of the Nicaraguan Army.
The zone, a few hundred yards inside Honduras from the Nicaraguan border, has been the site of numerous clashes between the counterrevolutionaries, known here as ''contras,'' and Nicaraguan regulars. Peasant farmers in the area have fled their tiny plots of land in fear of the fighting, leaving the forested hills to the opposing military forces.
(In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman said the pilot landed the helicopter in Honduras, 20 to 30 meters from the Nicaraguan border, after a light warning of mechanical problems went off in the cabin. US military personnel have been warned not to fly within five miles of the border, the spokesman said.)
The Sandinista government has stringently applied a policy of nonpursuit in their encounters with the contras, according to informed observers as well as Nicaraguan troops interviewed in the zone.
Since March 1983, there has been a steady buildup by the US-backed contras along the road between Danli and Cifuentes, Honduras, where the attack on the helicopter occurred.
In June, Los Angeles Times corresponent Dial Torgerson and free-lance photographer Richard Cross were killed on this highway in mysterious circumstances. The Nicaraguan and Honduran governments blamed each other for the attack.
The joint US and Honduran maneuvers now taking place, which involve some 3, 000 US troops, are apparently limited to exercises along the Atlantic coast and deeper inside Honduran territory. The year-old maneuvers, with the code name ''Big Pine 2,'' have never been reported to be operating in the area of the helicopter attack.
The contras have been attempting to establish a ''liberated'' territory inside northern Nicaragua for over a year with little success.