A controversial Honduran Army raid on a refugee camp last week has become a growing headache for the powerful armed forces here and for their U.S. government allies.
One human rights worker charged today that one man was killed, an infant was kicked to death and at least 50 people were seriously hurt in Thursday's raid at a complex of six refugee camps at Colomoncagua, 60 miles southwest of here on the border with El Salvador.
The charges by Jann Sweenie, 29, of the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant of Berkeley, Calif., a church group, echoed those made Friday by three Roman Catholic church officials from the border region but were more detailed.
Sweenie also said she and another human rights worker and several refugees saw a tall, blond soldier who appeared to be an American among the Honduran troops. U.S. Embassy spokesmen denied that any American took part in the raid.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) confirmed yesterday at its Geneva headquarters that two people, including an infant, were dead and 28 wounded, and said it "regrets very much" that the raid occurred. An official from Geneva arrived here yesterday for a follow-up investigation.
The incident was termed the most violent at the refugee camps in Honduras, which have filled to capacity during the past three years as a result of guerrilla wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
U.S. officials here have called the camps on the Salvadoran border "basically R and R rest and recreation facilities for the guerrillas." They endorsed the Honduran armed forces' version of events but said privately that the episode could have been handled better.
The Honduran armed forces, in an official statement Friday, confirmed they had killed one man and arrested 10 but said only a few were injured during "an inspection" of the camp. More than 9,000 refugees have been living in the Colomoncagua camps since they opened in 1981-82.
The statement said the dead man was a suspected Salvadoran leftist guerrilla who had tried to grab a soldier's gun. It said the raid had followed the Aug. 27 capture of another guerrilla near Colomoncagua, who told them that a group of insurgents had crossed the Salvadoran border 1 1/2 miles away to rest at the camp. The armed forces statement said the UNHCR had been told about the pending "inspection."
Sweenie said it was "completely false" that the UNHCR had been informed, and she said the refugees denied that a refugee's violence had sparked the shooting. She said the refugee killed and those taken prisoner all "had identity cards issued by the Honduran government and the UNHCR, recognizing their status in Honduras as refugees."
"Any statement implying that this was an operation against guerrillas is false," she said.
Sweenie, a teacher, said a Honduran UNHCR representative had been kicked and threatened when he tried to halt the violence. Other human rights observers said the official had suffered "some slight physical abuse." Sweenie and the other human rights sources asked that no names be used in order to avoid what they said would be retaliation against the refugees.
Sweenie said she was one of nine international human rights volunteer workers in the area of the camps at the time of the raid but that only one had actually witnessed the attack from inside. That person was unavailable for comment.