The U.S. government, rejecting Nicaraguan charges of American involvement, said Saturday that the Managua government is to blame for a military clash along the Honduras-Nicaragua border that killed at least one Honduran soldier and wounded eight others.
In a statement read by State Department spokesman Joe Reap, the Reagan Administration pledged strong support for Honduras in exercising “its legitimate right of self-defense.” However, the department did not spell out any action Washington might take to back the Hondurans.
Reap said that Friday’s skirmish “was the direct result of repeated Sandinista military attacks over the past several months against both civilian and military targets in Honduras.
“We hold the government of Nicaragua fully responsible for this escalation of the level of violence in Central America,” he said.
Reports of the fighting near the border village of Espanolito, about 38 miles south of Tegucigalpa, were confused. Each side accused the other of starting the clash. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega said that Honduras was acting as “an instrument of the United States’ interventionist and criminal action.”
Ortega Proposes Meeting
Ortega called for Honduran President Roberto Suazo Cordova to meet him in Tegucigalpa, Managua or any other Latin American city to talk about ways to ease tensions between the two countries. Honduras, which recalled its ambassador to Managua, Col. Isidro Tapia Martinez, for consultations, did not reply immediately to the call for a summit meeting.
No fighting was reported Saturday along the border, although a Honduran military spokesman said that 2,000 troops, dispatched to the 90-mile stretch of border Friday, were placed on full alert “with precise orders to attack . . . and eliminate hostile military actions.” He said F-86 and A-37 planes were patrolling the region.
News agency accounts from Tegucigalpa said that Honduran warplanes shot down a Nicaraguan helicopter and strafed a Nicaraguan mortar position in response to mortar fire that killed one Honduran soldier and wounded eight others. Nicaragua denied the mortar attack on Honduras.
Nicaragua said it lost two helicopters but did not say if any of its personnel were killed or wounded. The Associated Press quoted Maj. Ricardo Borjas of the Honduran armed forces public affairs office as saying it was inevitable that there were some Nicaraguan casualties.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Arthur Skop confirmed Nicaragua’s claim that the Honduran warplanes crossed into Nicaraguan air space, the AP reported.
The Honduran congress, called into emergency session by Suazo, adopted a resolution endorsing the president’s policies “before the eventuality of an armed conflict.”
U.S. Provocation Charged
Ortega, speaking on the national radio, said Honduran forces, supported by 800 U.S.-backed c ontra rebels, attempted to invade Nicaragua. He said the incident was provoked by the United States to touch off a “generalized conflict among the Central American states.”
In response, the State Department said: “The United States rejects the irresponsible and inaccurate statement made by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega alleging United States responsibility for the military exchange.” The clash broke out a few hours after the State Department issued a report accusing Nicaragua of “acts of aggression” throughout Central America. The report was timed to coincide with World Court consideration of a Nicaraguan suit accusing the United States of aggression. Washington rejected the court’s jurisdiction and is not taking part in the hearing in The Hague.
Meanwhile, Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III told a Washington meeting of the International Assn. of Jurists: “Terrorist groups in Africa, in the Middle East, in Europe and in Central America are in common cause against Western society. Many of these groups share weapons and tactics, train together and cooperate to bring down democratic governments and institutions.”
In his prepared text, Meese also said that Nicaragua “is fast becoming a terrorist country club, offering refuge to members of the (Palestine Liberation Organization), the Basque ETA, the (Irish Republican Army) and West Germany’s Baader-Meinhof gang.”