TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS, SEPT. 22 -- A domestic political dispute about Honduran compliance with a Central American peace plan is reopening old wounds over human rights and democracy in this country, according to Honduran and foreign analysts.
The dispute also has highlighted military dissatisfaction here with the peace plan, which Honduras was perceived to have signed reluctantly last month in Guatemala, diplomats said.
A growing concern of the Honduran government and armed forces is that if verification provisions in the peace plan are implemented, embarrassing revelations about Nicaraguan rebel bases on Honduran territory could emerge amid great publicity, the diplomats said. The Hondurans also have been concerned that rebels who refused to accept a Nicaraguan amnesty could rush back across the border, creating problems for the Honduran military and civliian populace.
The immediate issue, however, is the Honduran government's refusal so far to form a "national reconciliation commission" as called for in the peace agreement signed Aug. 7 by the presidents of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
The accord calls for establishment of four-member commissions in each country, to include a representative of the church, the government, the domestic opposition and a neutral group. The principal function of the commissions is to monitor compliance with provisions on cease-fires, amnesties, democratization and other measures to achieve "true national reconciliation."
The Honduran government has argued up to now that the provision does not necessarily apply to this country and that there is no need for a reconciliation commission here. A group of human rights activists, unions and small political parties contends, however, that no exceptions are made in the peace plan and that "dialogue" between the government and dissenters is vital.
In his latest comments on the subject, President Jose Azcona said his government would study the possibility of creating a commission. He made the statement after receiving reports that Costa Rica, which initiated the peace plan, had decided to form a reconciliation commission so that it could not be accused of violating the accord. Like Honduras, Costa Rica has no significant armed opposition movement.
"We do not see the necessity because here we do not have political prisoners, an emergency law or a state of siege, and there is absolute freedom of the press," Azcona told reporters. "We don't have conditions that oblige us to do it, but we're going to study it. We don't have any problem in doing it."
In separate remarks, Gen. Humberto Regalado, the armed forces chief, ruled out establishment of a commission, saying that "the Honduran family already lives in peace."
However, the president of the Committee for Defense of Human Rights in Honduras, Ramon Custodio, said a commission is needed to promote dialogue between the government and minority parties, unions, students and human rights groups. He said that although Honduras has not had any political prisoners since 32 were released in an amnesty in March 1986, many of those have had to remain abroad because of military death threats. Custodio said there were currently about 25 such exiles.
In addition, Custodio said, families still want a resolution of what he described as 130 cases of political disappearances between 1981 and December 1985 and at least 65 suspected assassinations since then.
Some of the alleged human rights abuses are related to a military crackdown on incipient guerrilla movements that started to form in the early 1980s. Two of them, the Popular Liberation Forces, also known as the Lorenzo Zelaya Movement, and the Cinchoneros group, are estimated to have fielded only a few hundred members at their peak. The groups apparently still exist, but have not carried out any significant operations in recent years.
The military is understood to be especially worried that a verification commission under the Central American peace plan would want to investigate the presence of Nicaraguan rebel bases in Honduras under a provision barring the use of any country's territory for aggression against another state.
"If there are contras in Honduras -- and there are -- the Hondurans should be nervous," a European diplomat said. "It puts them in a very difficult position."
According to another well-informed source, the Azcona government had assured the Honduran military that no peace accord would be signed in Guatemala, but acquiesced to the agreement when it realized it would be alone in opposing it. "Honduras couldn't be the odd man out," the source said. "Azcona signed with great reluctance."
If a general Nicaraguan amnesty is declared and some rebels who refuse to accept it come into Honduras, said a Honduran Foreign Ministry spokesman, Eugenio Castro, "the only way they could stay here is under refugee status." He said the rebels "would have to turn themselves in" and move into refugee camps under the supervision of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.