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Sandinistas Deport American Who Crash-Landed in Nicaragua

Times Staff Writer

The government Monday deported an American who crash-landed his private plane in Nicaragua last month during what Sandinista officials called a flight to pick up cocaine in Colombia.

Nicaraguan authorities brought no charges against the pilot, Arthur Henry Burton Jr., even though his twin-engine Aerocommander entered the country’s airspace illegally March 25 en route from New Orleans.

But they said his deportation showed their eagerness to cooperate with the U.S. government in regional drug enforcement efforts.

U.S. officials have been cool to that offer, coming as it does from a Marxist-oriented government that Washington is trying to isolate in Central America. They had little public comment on the arrest.

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Interior Ministry police officers brought Burton, 39, from a Managua prison to the airport and handed him over to U.S. Consul Atim Ogunba. She gave him his U.S. passport, which had been seized by the police at the time of his arrest, and escorted him aboard a direct flight to Miami on Lacsa, the Costa Rican airline.

A Foreign Ministry official said the U.S. State Department had asked for Burton’s deportation so he could be questioned by the U.S. Customs Service in a drug-related investigation.

“This is the first time there has been cooperation between the United States and Nicaragua in a drug case,” the official said. “The deportation was an act of our government, but it was their idea.”

American officials declined to comment on talks with the Nicaraguans about the case or even to confirm that Burton is under U.S. investigation. The U.S. Embassy spokesman, Lou Falino, said he could not discuss the case because Burton had not waived his rights under the Privacy Act.

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Privately, however, U.S. officials expressed annoyance over the incident, without denying that Burton is a suspected drug runner.

“The Sandinistas have been pushing for several months to portray themselves as the white knights of Central America in the war against drugs,” one official said. “They very badly want any kind of understanding with the United States, and they would say anything to show that they are cooperating with our government in this area.”

At a meeting of five Central American presidents in February, Nicaragua offered a plan to unify regional anti-drug efforts. It called for centralized enforcement authority in each of the five countries and monthly regional meetings to which officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration would be invited.

The five countries’ foreign ministers agreed to send delegates to Managua early this month to discuss the Nicaraguan plan. But the meeting was postponed when Honduras, a close U.S. ally, advised that its representative could not attend.

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Diplomats in the region say that Washington wants to keep the Sandinistas isolated until they live up to promises for open and fair elections next February. U.S.-Nicaraguan relations have been minimal since the two countries expelled one another’s ambassadors last July.

Burton and Abimael Castillo Canur, 38, both residents of Belize, landed near Puerto Cabezas, on Nicaragua’s east coast, with a damaged fuel tank. Nicaraguan officials later gave reporters a confession signed by Burton saying the two were en route to Capurgana, Colombia, to pick up 200 kilograms of cocaine.


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