Tensions along the Honduran-Nicaraguan frontier have been high following a cross-border raid by Nicaraguan troops on Friday, Honduran and U.S. officials said today.
One Honduran soldier was killed and four were wounded in the clash five days ago along the border in Honduras' eastern El Paraiso province, according to the Honduran government. Subsequently, the Honduran Army sent reinforcements to the area and barred reporters from entering the zone, making it difficult to confirm what has been happening there.
Troops of Nicaragua's left-wing Sandinista government were said to have penetrated about a mile into Honduras in the raid. They apparently were pursuing Nicaraguan contras, short for counterrevolutionaries, according to normally reliable diplomatic sources contacted by phone in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
Nicaragua denied that its forces had crossed the border.
The incursion reportedly took place close to the contras' main base camp at Las Vegas, located just inside Honduran territory. It came less than a week after an unusually heavy cross-border artillery duel on May 5 in the area.
Incidents have flared repeatedly on the Nicaraguan-Honduran border in recent years because the Nicaraguan rebels are based in Honduras and because of tension between the Sandinista government in Nicaragua and the more conservative, U.S.-backed Honduran government.
But the Honduran Armed Forces chief spokesman, Col. Cesar Elvir Sierra, said in a telephone interview from Tegucigalpa that "no incident has been reported" since Friday and that the situation has calmed greatly. The Army has blocked off an "emergency military zone" along the border between the towns of Cifuentes and Arenales.
U.S. Embassy officials in Tegucigalpa also said that they had heard of no other incidents since Friday, although they cautioned that information from the frontier was difficult to obtain.
The United States, while repeatedly asserting that Nicaragua constitutes a threat to its neighbors, consistently has adopted a muted position regarding flare-ups of border fighting between Nicaragua and Honduras. Many observers have attributed this low-profile approach to the United States' desire to avoid drawing attention to the presence of contra base camps on Honduran territory, a presence that Honduras finds embarrassing.
This pattern was repeated yesterday, as a U.S. Embassy official called the Nicaraguan raid "unjustified" but stopped short of criticizing the Sandinistas in the strong terms that U.S. officials often use in other circumstances.