Honduran President links peace treaty with Nicaragua reform

Honduran President Jos'e Azcona Hoyo ends a brief Washington visit today, leaving Reagan administration officials relieved that a peace settlement in Central America will be linked to democratic reform in Nicaragua. ``There can be no peace . . . if there is no democratic opening in Nicaragua,'' Mr. Azcona told a National Press Club audience yesterday.

In meetings with senior administration officials this week, Azcona reported on a weekend meeting in Guatemala, where sharp differences surfaced between Nicaragua and leaders of the region's four democracies -- Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala. He also appealed for new US aid and security guarantees for his country.

The so-called Contadora process seeks a peaceful resolution to the region's conflicts, but has so far stalled on several issues, including implementation schedules and verification procedures.

Azcona yesterday denounced a new offer by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra to find a solution to another treaty sticking point -- regional arms reduction. He called it ``just a maneuver'' designed to ``distract people's attention'' from the issue of democratic reform in Nicaragua.

A senior Reagan administration official this week applauded the ``tremendous solidarity'' of the Central American democracies and their willingness to postpone a planned June 6 signing ceremony until explicit democratic reforms are agreed to by Nicaragua.

But the official said the delay could ``cut both ways'' in Congress, where the administration is seeking $100 million in new aid to the Nicaraguan ``contras.'' Some members of Congress would like to postpone a planned June vote on the contra-aid issue until the Contadora negotiations have concluded.

Azcona yesterday endorsed aid to the contras, warning that if the money were not approved the rebels could become a ``grave problem'' for Honduras. Honduran officials fear that, without US backing, thousands of armed Nicaraguan resistance fighters, part of the Nicaraguan Demorcatic Force (FDN), could end up as permanent residents of Honduras, adding to a refugee population that already numbers more than 50,000.

Wedged between El Salvador, where the government is battling leftist guerillas, and Nicaragua, where the government is battling rightist guerillas, Honduras has become a key to US interests in Central America. As the base of the FDN, the largest of the Nicaraguan contra groups, and the jumping off point for resupply flights to contra units operating inside Nicaragua, Honduras has been indispensable to the conduct of the US-backed guerilla war in Nicaragua.

In a White House meeting Tuesday, President Reagan reaffirmed that the US would come to the aid of Honduras in the face of ``communist aggression.'' The US also agreed to release $60 million in US economic aid to help the faltering Honduran economy, the second poorest in Latin America.

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