The Nicaraguan government charged that rebels flying T28 propeller planes from the direction of Honduras attacked the Pacific port of Corinto today, 24 hours after a rebel air raid on Managua.
The raid on Corinto, 90 miles northwest of here, was aimed at port warehouses and a fuel storage tank but caused little damage and no injuries because of poor marksmanship, Defense Ministry spokesman Roberto Sanchez said.
United Press International, reporting from Corinto, quoted port officials as saying the planes' target was the Soviet freighter Polessk, which was undamaged. An official said toxic gas escaped from three storage tanks punctured by shrapnel and residents were evacuated from 20 nearby houses.
The pilots dropped a total of four bombs in the sea, said Sanchez. A communique said a bridge also was targeted but unscathed.
The communique said Nicaragua had lodged a protest with Honduras against this "new maneuver by enemies of peace to create difficulties for, or block, the efforts of the Contradora" peace effort in Central America. It also said the planes fled in the face of antiaircraft fire, with one heading for Honduras and the other toward Costa Rica.
A Honduran government communique denied that the planes flew from that country. In Tegucigalpa, a spokesman for U.S.-supported, anti-Sandinista Democratic Revolutionary Front rebels said his group assumed the attack came from the rebels, based in the Costa Rican border area, who acknowledged carrying out yesterday's attack on the Managua airport. UPI said the Revolutionary Democratic Alliance, or ARDE, rebel group in Costa Rica claimed responsibility for the latest attack as well as the air raid yesterday.
The T28 is an American-built trainer dating to the late 1940s that can be adapted to carry bombs and rockets. The United States has provided 24 of them to Honduras and a smaller number to Nicaragua in the past.
Nicaragua accused the U.S. CIA yesterday of providing the two Cessna twin-prop planes and the 500-pound bombs used by ARDE. It said today's bombs also were U.S.-made.
The State Department, commenting on rebel air attacks, said it "would deplore any attack which would endanger the lives of innocent civilians," the Associated Press reported. While Nicaragua said it protested Thursday's attack, the department's spokesman said no protest had been received.
The bombs caused some damage to airplane hangars at the airport yesterday, but the most damage occurred after the attacking plane was shot down and exploded at the foot of the control tower, defense officials said. The crashed plane's two pilots were killed and three soldiers at the airport were reported slightly injured.
The airport protocol room and a waiting room were badly burned in the explosion, and the smell of fire still was strong this morning. Cleanup crews had cleared the debris, however, and Nicaraguan authorities boasted that the attack had shut down the airport yesterday only for several hours.
Sanchez called a press conference to provide the government's first comprehensive report on the latest offensive by forces opposed to the Sandinista government. He said that they were causing some economic damage but posed no military threat.
"No army in the world has enough troops to guard its entire border," Sanchez said. "We absolutely do not see this as a danger militarily."
In 15 clashes between Aug. 28 and today, 19 Nicaraguan military personnel, 22 Nicaraguan civilians and 95 counterrevolutionary insurgents have been killed, Sanchez said.
Asked why the rebels had intensified their operations, Sanchez said, "They feel strengthened because of the greater U.S. military presence around Nicaragua."
The CIA is financing the Honduras-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force, the largest of the anti-Sandinista rebel groups, and U.S. military maneuvers in Honduras this autumn have been described as being aimed in part at intimidating the Nicaraguan government.
Sanchez denied a claim yesterday by the rebel Nicaraguan Democratic Force that it had sabotaged a vital oil terminal in the Pacific port of Puerto Sandino, south of Corinto.
"Nothing has happened at Puerto Sandino. They released their communique before they carried out the operation," Sanchez said.
Sanchez said rebel attacks have come on Nicaragua's western coast with the Corinto air raid, in the country's southeastern corner with a seaborne raid starting late last month, and at various points along the northern border with Honduras.
In addition to staging the air raid on Managua, the ARDE rebel group was responsible for a seaborne raid in the southeastern Zelaya province starting at the end of last month, Sanchez said. About 200 men crept up the coastline in small boats from Costa Rica, fought for about two weeks and then escaped by sea under the government's pressure, he said.
While accusing both Honduras and Costa Rica of harboring insurgents, the spokesman said that the Costa Ricans gave less support to the rebels. He referred to recent reports from San Jose that the Costa Rican government had detained the 200 insurgents when they returned to the country. Honduran Army troops and Coast Guard vessels had fired on Nicaraguan forces twice in the past two weeks, he said. The Coast Guard attack took place off the coast of Cayos Miskitos in the northwestern part of the country, he said.
Providing a list of 15 places where the insurgents had staged "enemy activities," Sanchez said the major fighting had been in the southeast in Barra Rio Maiz and in Matagalpa province in the Rio Blanco and Matiguas sector. While he characterized the attacks mostly as nuisance raids, Sanchez charged that insurgents were hurting the economy by burning crops, destroying bridges and creating a refugee problem by driving peasants from their homes.
Sanchez accused the rebels of terror tactics and in one case of massacring unarmed peasants, but there was no way immediately to confirm the charges. He said that insurgents had slit the throats of 18 peasants on Sept. 3 at Comarca Waya in a remote rural area of Zelaya province.