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Encamped Contras Sing and Dance About $100-Million Aid

Times Staff Writer

Nicaraguan guerrillas encamped in Honduras celebrated with singing and dancing when they heard that the U.S. House of Representatives had approved $100 million in aid for their anti-Sandinista war.

The contras, as the guerrillas are called, have their main camps and training installations in Honduras near the Nicaraguan frontier. Wednesday night, the camps erupted with jubilation over the House vote, according to Indalecio Rodriguez, a senior civilian contras leader.

“There was singing, dancing, carnivals--general euphoria and jubilation,” Rodriguez said Thursday. Rodriguez said he learned of the celebrations by radio. Honduras bars reporters from the camps.

A sharply different reaction came from U.N. headquarters in New York where the Contadora Group, four Latin American nations trying to broker a peace treaty in Central America, criticized the House’s action.

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“We obviously regard the vote by Congress as a rather unhappy situation” for the peace process in Central America, said Foreign Minister Bernardo Sepulveda of Mexico, speaking also on behalf of his counterparts from Colombia, Panama and Venezuela.

“The basic spirit of Contadora is non-intervention . . . and we strongly believe that it should be respected by all parties,” Sepulveda said.

Here in Tegucigalpa, Rodriguez and some other rebel leaders predicted that with new U.S. aid, the guerrillas will force the Marxist-led Sandinistas to negotiate an end to the guerrilla fighting in the countryside within a year. Non-Nicaraguan analysts, however, said the fighting promises to last much longer.

“Everybody is going to be looking for instant results,” one military analyst said. “That’s not going to happen.”

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Rodriguez said the new aid will permit the contras to increase the strength of their fighting forces to more than 30,000 men. Current estimates of contra strength range from 12,000 to 17,000.

Rodriguez said the aid will make it possible for most of the 6,000-odd contras now camped in Honduras to return to Nicaraguan battlefields. He also said that about 50,000 Nicaraguan civilians, supporters and relatives of guerrilla fighters, will be able to return there.

Successful Sandinista offensives forced the civilians to flee during the last two years. Rodriguez said it would be “impossible” for the civilians to return without new U.S. aid to strengthen their guerrilla protectors.

The presence of contras and their supporters in Honduras has been a burden and an embarrassment for the Honduran government. Foreign Ministry officials here welcomed the new U.S. aid as a means of getting the contras back into Nicaragua.

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“I wish they would all leave,” a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

“It is going to alleviate this country’s problems,” Rodriguez said.

An additional bonus to Honduras will be its share of $300 million in economic aid to Central American countries that was approved along with the contras aid. The economic aid will be in addition to the $123 million being received this year by Honduras, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries.

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Rodriguez and Carlos Icaza, another civilian contras leader, said the most important benefits of the new aid will be a buildup in the guerrillas’ arsenal. Icaza said they also hope to buy a C-130 transport plane to airlift materiel into remote regions where the guerrillas operate.

John Ferch, the American ambassador here, said the aid will revitalize the contras’ military campaign.

“With the additional equipment we will be able to supply, I would anticipate early accelerated successes,” Ferch said.

Another official said that the rebels need hundreds of field radios to improve their command-and-control performance in the field, as well as specialized military training. He said training will be provided by U.S. military and CIA personnel.

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