A group of 17 Nicaraguan soldiers, including three officers, drove military trucks across the border into Honduras today and were taken into custody by Honduran authorities, Nicaragua announced.
The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the seven Army trucks crossed the border near the Nicaraguan town of El Espino "because of an unfortunate mistake." It called on the Honduran government to return the soldiers and trucks "promptly."
"The government of Nicaragua regrets these facts, which are absolutely removed from any deliberate intention of penetrating into Honduran territory and which are due rather to an involuntary error," the ministry added.
In Tegucigalpa, a Honduran military communique said the soldiers drove seven Soviet-made vehicles across the border and were captured by Honduran toops, The Associated Press reported. The communique said that the purpose of entering Honduras was not known.
"This action shows once again the flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of national territory by the Sandinista Popular Army and demonstrates the permanent vigilance that the armed forces of Honduras exercise along the width and breadth of our borders to prevent armed groups from entering freely into national territory," the statement added.
A U.S. Army spokesman, Maj. William Lowe, said he had been told of the incident but "no U.S. troops were involved."
About 450 National Guardsmen from Texas are on maneuvers 30 miles from La Fraternidad, where the crossing occurred. A Honduran spokesman said the Nicaraguans were taken for questioning to an Army base in nearby Choluteca.
The Nicaraguan statement reflected an official desire here to avoid further trouble with Honduras over the border. Several clashes have occurred since 1982, when Honduran troops began helping anti-Sandinista guerrilla forces who have been attacking targets in Nicaragua from havens in Honduras.
Earlier, military sources in Honduras had been quoted as saying the Nicaraguans soldiers were fleeing their country, a growing phenomenon here since the Sandinista government imposed a military draft in 1983. If it was a defection, today's incident would be particularly embarrassing, since it involved soldiers rather than young civilians evading the draft as often has been the case.
Because of resistance to the draft, the Sandinista leadership has gone to great lengths to portray its Army as a seat of patriotic fervor. Sandinista political officers have been assigned to most units.
The Army started drafting youths in large numbers last summer, but it has not said how many have been inducted.
Journalists who recently drove the road from Honduras across the border to El Espino said the crossing is clearly marked. It includes stone barriers creating an obstacle path forcing vehicles to slow and weave back and forth as well as two separate chains blocking passage, they said. The crossing also is marked by several buildings, some of them damaged by an anti-Sandinista rebel attack months ago, they recalled.
El Espino lies in Madriz province, about 150 miles north of Managua.