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Soviet Arms for Nicaragua at New High : U.S. Says Bloc Shipped $300 Million in Weaponry So Far in ’87

Times Staff Writer

The Soviet Union and its allies have shipped more than $300 million worth of weaponry to Nicaragua during the first half of 1987, a new high in Soviet arms deliveries to the Central American nation, Reagan Administration officials said Monday.

The shipments have included about six MI-8 combat helicopters and an unknown number of anti-aircraft guns that could be used against the CIA cargo planes supplying Nicaraguan contras, the officials said.

They said that new estimates from the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence organizations indicated that almost 16,000 metric tons of weapons were delivered to Nicaragua from January through June. They said this was an increase over previous levels, but not a major increase.

“The significance is that there has been no diminution of Soviet support to the Sandinistas,” said one official with access to intelligence reports. “It’s not a big jump. What’s worrisome is the fact that the stuff keeps coming in.

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“The helicopters aren’t really an increase,” he added. “They need them to replace the ones the contras are knocking down.”

He also noted that the shipments have not included any sophisticated weapons systems that would be new to Nicaragua. The anti-aircraft equipment, for example, has included conventional repeating guns but not SAM-3 missiles, he said.

“The Soviets seem to be being careful about any qualitative increase that might require a response from us,” he said. In the past, the United States has warned that the introduction of modern jet fighter planes into Nicaragua would touch off a U.S. attack.

With more than 65,000 men under arms, leftist-ruled Nicaragua already has the largest armed forces in Central America.

Push for More Contra Aid

The Defense Department is preparing a new public report on Nicaragua’s military strength to be released as part of the Administration’s push in Congress for renewed U.S. aid to the contras, officials said. Congress approved $100 million in aid for the rebels this year, and the Administration is preparing to request another $140 million or more for the 18 months beginning Oct. 1.

Officials divulged some of the military estimates Monday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because, they said, some of the intelligence remains officially secret.

They said the arms shipments, in addition to helicopters and anti-aircraft guns, have included armored personnel carriers, radar equipment and large amounts of ammunition.

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The Sandinistas are now believed to have at least 150 tanks, more than 200 armored vehicles and 50 to 60 helicopters, one official said.

A Pentagon official said the shipments also included anti-tank guns, adding: “We find that interesting because the contras don’t have any tanks; the countries around Nicaragua do.” Another official noted, however, that Sandinista leaders have frequently said that they are preparing for an invasion by the United States.


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