Three North American Indian leaders who entered Nicaragua illegally to visit Indians living in that country's Caribbean coastal region reported being attacked by Sandinista forces and escaping in a dugout canoe to the Colombian island of San Andres.
Hank Adams, an Indian activist from Washington State, said in a telephone interview that Nicaraguan military planes bombed a village that the group was visiting and later strafed and rocketed a small boat in which they were traveling. He said three teen-age rebel soldiers traveling with them were killed.
Adams traveled to Nicaragua with Russell Means, leader of the American Indian Movement; Clem Chartier, a Canadian Indian lawyer who is chairman of the World Council of Indigenous People, and Nicaraguan Indian rebel leader Brooklyn Rivera. Bob Martin, a journalist from Albuquerque, was also with them.
Nicaraguan Ambassador Carlos Tunnermann said the Indian delegation was accompanied by about 100 armed rebels from Rivera's group, Misurasata, and had provoked the bombing attack on the village of Layasiksa by firing on a Nicaraguan reconnaissance plane.
Tunnermann said that many of the Indian rebel groups on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua had reached a cease-fire with the Sandinistas and that the visit of the North American group had disrupted that truce. He added that the government had broadcast appeals to the visiting Indian leaders, saying that if they reported to the Red Cross, the Moravian Church or local authorities they would be guaranteed safe conduct out of the country.
Adams and Means, interviewed by telephone from a hotel on San Andres Island, said they had entered Nicaragua from Costa Rica on Jan. 8 without obtaining permission from the ruling Sandinistas. Adams and Chartier had been in Nicaragua before at the invitation of the government and had visited the restricted Caribbean coast region with government escorts.
Adams said they traveled to the region illegally, because the government restricts who may travel to the isolated, underdeveloped region that historically has been separate from the dominant, Spanish-speaking western part of Nicaragua. Most residents of the coastal area are Indians or English-speaking blacks.
"I've been on the Atlantic Coast as a guest of the government," Adams said, but added that on such visits, "There is no access to resistance villages or victim villages. People try to sneak up to you and whisper in your ear what is going on."
Adams said government military planes attacked the village of Layasiksa on Jan. 21, firing with rockets and injuring two villagers. The Nicaraguan government arranged for a group of foreign journalists to visit the village on Tuesday, and they reported seeing several craters apparently caused by 500-pound bombs. They also found a knapsack with a notebook belonging to Martin, the journalist.
Means, who Adams said received a "slight shrapnel wound" in the raid, said the armed men traveling with the group did not fire first and that he had a tape recording of Rivera ordering his men not to break the cease-fire.
Adams said that after the attack on the village, 18 members of the visiting group tried to travel in a small boat across rivers and a lake. He said they were caught by the Nicaraguan military planes, which fired on their boat. He said everyone in the boat jumped into the water, but the planes "started targeting the exposed people in the water."
He said eight Indian fighters were wounded and three -- the youngest 14 years old -- drowned or died of their wounds. Adams said Means pulled two of the wounded men out of the water.
Adams and Means said Rivera's rebel group escorted them from village to village, hiding from the government forces until they were able to slip past two military gunboats in the dugout canoe and travel to San Andres.