President Daniel Ortega said today that the areas of Honduras bordering Nicaragua where thousands of U.S.-backed anti-Sandinista rebels are based have become a "war zone" over which the Honduran government has lost its sovereignty and control.
"Honduras has been losing its sovereignty over a portion of its territory," Ortega said at a televised press conference here. "It's become an occupied zone, a war zone." Without admitting directly that Sandinista troops had entered Honduras, Ortega said the Nicaraguan Army had carried out "defensive operations" this week against border strongholds of the rebels, known as contras.
In a reference to a U.S. helicopter airlift of Honduran troops to the border region this week, Ortega said, "American helicopters, officials and advisers will be running the same risk as the contras. So it won't surprise us . . . if U.S. officials and advisers turn up dead."
Ortega defined the border zone as a no man's land under the terms of international law and claimed that Nicaragua's recent military thrust could not be called either an invasion or an act of aggression.
Ortega appeared to be putting forth a Sandinista policy that Nicaraguan troops are justified in moving against contra positions inside Honduras as a way of preventing attacks against Nicaragua. Although the Sandinista units have crossed the border scores of times, today's statement marks the first time that the government openly has proclaimed this policy.
Ortega and Foreign Minister Miguel d'Escoto also described the Sandinista Army's four-day clash with contra guerrillas as a clear victory for Nicaragua. Ortega said his troops "occupied and destroyed" the contras' main training camp and other bases as well as destroying one U.S.-made helicopter used by the rebels. Intelligence sources in Honduras said the Nicaraguan troops penetrated the training camp but were driven back by the contras.
Ortega also revealed that 40 Sandinista soldiers were killed and 114 wounded in the fighting, confirming reports from Honduras that the combat had been heavy. The Nicaraguan president claimed that his troops killed 350 contras and wounded 250 in the assault.
Ortega reiterated the Nicaraguan government's staunch refusal to open talks with anti-Sandinista guerrilla leaders, an action Washington has demanded.
Calling for direct talks with the U.S. government, he said that to reach "the roots of the problem" the Sandinistas must talk with "he who is obsessed with Nicaragua."
He said such talks should take into consideration "U.S. regional security concerns and Nicaragua's regional security concerns."