TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS -- The Honduran government has ordered the recall from Colombia of its military attache, who was linked to a major cocaine trafficker wanted by the United States.

The recall order for the military attache, Army Col. William Said Speer, is the latest in a series of events that have underscored the growing importance of Honduras, a key U.S. ally in Central America, as a transshipment point for drug smuggling from Colombia to the United States.

In recognition of that role, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration will reopen an office in Tegucigalpa that was closed in 1981, U.S. officials said.

The Honduran Foreign Ministry said it was recalling Said Speer "for consultations" after Jorge Luis Ochoa, a leader of Colombia's powerful Medellin drug trafficking cartel, was arrested Nov. 21 in the Colombian capital, Bogota, while driving the colonel's sports car. Said Speer has not yet returned to Honduras, but he has denied any wrongdoing in telephone interviews with Honduran newspapers. He said his 1987 Porsche was taken without his permission from a garage in the Colombian capital where it was being repaired.

There was no immediate explanation of how Said Speer, who earns about $30,000 a year as an Army colonel, came to possess a car estimated to cost more than $100,000 in Colombia.

Said Speer was sent abroad after he lost in an armed forces power play last year. He had refused to be relieved of his command of the country's only armored unit, but was forced to back down when heavy artillery was trained on his base. Earlier he had been implicated in a scheme in which Honduran military officers reportedly reaped large profits from a $27 million U.S. humanitarian aid program for the Nicaraguan rebels known as contras.

Ochoa, wanted by U.S. authorities on narcotics trafficking charges, reputedly is one of three top leaders of the Medellin cartel, which U.S. officials hold responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States. The Colombian government says Ochoa cannot be extradited under current law and, in any case, must first serve a 20-month jail term in Colombia on a charge of having illegally imported bulls.

One diplomat here, questioning U.S. motives for not assigning full-time DEA agents to Tegucigalpa earlier in view of reports that large drug shipments were moving through Honduras, said Washington may have ignored Honduran officers' complicity in the smuggling to ensure their support for Honduras-based Nicaraguan rebels. "Apparently they {U.S. officials} didn't want to send the wrong signal to the military," he said.

The decision to reopen the DEA office here became public a week after authorities in Florida confiscated more than 8,000 pounds of cocaine in the largest such seizure ever made in the United States. The shipment was packed in hollow furniture, reportedly at a Honduran factory. The cocaine had an estimated street value of $1.4 billion.

According to a Honduran press report, the drug-filled furniture was loaded into two sea containers in Puerto Cortes, Honduras' main port, on the Caribbean coast north of Tegucigalpa. DEA agents on temporary assignment in Honduras are helping Honduran naval intelligence investigate the case, a U.S. official said.

"Geographically, Honduras is a very tempting transshipment point," said a diplomat. "The drug lords know they will lose more if it goes straight from Colombia to the U.S." He said shipping the drugs first to Honduras reduces the chance that they will be intercepted, because vessels and individuals arriving in the United States directly from Colombia are given much closer scrutiny.

Moving drugs into Honduras is relatively easy because it is sparsely populated, with isolated airstrips and about 300 miles of Caribbean coastline. The Bay Islands, about 40 miles north of the mainland in the Caribbean, are virtually unpoliced, and fishermen frequently sail to the Colombian island of San Andres, about 120 miles east of the Nicaraguan coast, the diplomat said.

While that seizure was the largest ever linked to Honduras, it was not the first. On July 29, U.S. officials in Chicago confiscated 5,487 pounds of cocaine that had been shipped from Honduras to Miami in two containers of bananas.

In October 1986, a Colombian plane carrying almost 2,000 pounds of cocaine was forced down by Honduran Air Force fighters. The plane apparently was supposed to land at a remote Honduran airstrip, one of about 100 in the country, Honduran and diplomatic sources said. The two Colombian pilots were arrested, only to be released three months later, they said.

A Honduran citizen, Ramon Matta Ballesteros, has been identified by the DEA as a major drug smuggler linked to the Colombian traffickers and is wanted by U.S. authorities in connection with the 1985 killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar in Mexico.

No solid evidence has emerged to substantiate reports of a connection between the trafficking and the rebels based here, diplomats and Honduran sources said.