PRESIDENT REAGAN, on March 16, ordered the emergency deployment of an additional 3,200 US troops to Honduras after being informed that soldiers of the Nicaraguan Army (Sandinistas) had entered Honduras in pursuit of ``contra'' rebels. They reinforced 3,150 US troops already in Honduras. The alleged penetration into Honduras by the Nicaraguan troops was reported to be in the area of Honduras which has been used by the contra rebels as their main base of operations. This area contains contra military headquarters, training and rest camps, military hospitals, quarters for about 4,000 civilian relatives of the contras, and ammunition dumps. Sorties from this area into Nicaragua have been going on since 1983. The Honduran government has never done anything to prevent the sorties into Nicaragua from its own, Honduran, territory, since their beginning in 1983.
Under international law in general, and under the recent Arias peace plan for Central America in particular, Honduras is under obligation to prevent its territory from being used for the purpose of hostile action against a neighboring country. The President of Honduras has signed the Arias peace plan.
Honduras has failed to expel the contras from Honduran territory and has failed to prevent them from using Honduran territory as a base for their continuing operations inside Nicaragua.
Throughout history it has been customary in such circumstances for the country under attack to resist the invasion and, if it is capable of doing so, to attack the source of the incursion and destroy the base. Under international law, such action is not regarded as an invasion, but as a ``punitive expedition'' to punish the invaders.
On March 9, 1916, Pancho Villa, a Mexican guerrilla leader, led a small band of Mexicans into Columbus, N.M., killing 17 people. President Woodrow Wilson promptly ordered a ``punitive expedition'' to be mounted. Under command of Gen. John J. Pershing, a US force of 15,000 men entered Mexican territory in pursuit of Pancho Villa. President Carranza of Mexico had given his ``reluctant consent.'' General Pershing pursued Villa all over northern Mexico for 11 months, without success. The US ``punitive expedition'' finally came home on Feb. 17, 1917, as the United States was coming closer to World War I.
During the Vietnam war, on April 30, 1970, the United States sent massive US forces into neutral Cambodia in an attempt to destroy Viet Cong bases from which the Viet Cong had been operating into South Vietnam. This was not, technically, an invasion of Cambodia. It was an attack on enemy forces using Cambodian territory.
Ever since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israel has maintained a force of hired Arab mercenaries, mostly Christian Arabs, in southern Lebanon to police a strip of south Lebanon. Israeli troops enter this area constantly. It is not an invasion of Lebanon, technically. It is effective control of an area by Israel to prevent that area from being used by Palestinians for hostile sorties into Israel.
During the long hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has frequently sent its forces into Lebanon in pursuit of some Arab intruder. This is known under international law as ``hot pursuit.'' The Reagan administration has said that ``hot pursuit'' by Israelis is justified.
In other words, President Daniel Ortega Saavedra has ample precedent for sending his troops in pursuit of ``contras'' who have been marauding in Nicaragua back to their own ``privileged sanctuary'' in Honduras and attacking those contra bases.
The latest news at this writing is that the Sandinistas have withdrawn without having attacked the contra bases or prevented their continuing use.
The net effect of the US operation is thus to preserve a privileged sanctuary for the contras inside Honduras which the contras occupy and use in violation of the Arias peace plan, which all Central American leaders have signed and which the US officially says that it supports.