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Despite Denials, CIA Is Expected to Train Contras in Honduras

September 06, 1986|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — CIA training for U.S.-supported Nicaraguan guerrillas is likely to be conducted quietly on Honduran territory despite public vows by Honduran officials that they will not permit it, according to informed sources here.

Both the U.S. House and Senate have approved legislation to give the anti-Sandinista rebels, known as contras, $100 million for training, military equipment and other supplies. The legislation is attached to a military construction bill that still requires final congressional approval, but no change in the contras' aid package is foreseen.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa said no decision has been made yet on where U.S. training for the contras will take place.

Contract Trainers

But a source who has close contacts with the embassy said part of the training probably will be carried out covertly in Honduras by experts under contract with the CIA. The "contract trainers" might be former military personnel from the United States or other countries, the source said.

"It's not going to be an overt operation, obviously," he said. "You won't hear much about it."

Asked to comment on an unconfirmed report that Honduran authorities have secretly agreed to such a covert training program, the source said, "That does not sound illogical."

He said the Hondurans will be "sensitive but flexible" about the training in their country, insisting that it be done secretly so that they can deny that it is taking place.

The source emphasized, however, that most U.S. training for the contras probably will be conducted at military installations in the United States. That training will be for contra trainers, combat unit leaders and operators of complex military equipment such as missiles and artillery.

Rather than setting up U.S. military training operations for the contras in Honduras, contras would be flown to the United States in groups, according to this source.

Easier in U.S.

"It's easier to take 20 platoon leaders and fly them up to Ft. Benning (Ga.), for example," the source said. "They've got everything in place; they do this all the time up there."

He did not rule out the possibility that some U.S. military trainers would come to Honduras on occasion, but he said: "We'd be talking about so few that the numbers would be insignificant."

He said he did not know how much of the training might be carried out in the United States under military control and how much in Honduras under CIA supervision, but he said that "most of the training won't be here."

The source also said it was unlikely that the training would be conducted in any other Central American countries. Speculation on where the contras' training will be given has prompted the foreign ministers of Panama and El Salvador to declare that it will not be in their countries.

Official Denials

Honduran President Jose Azcona, Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras and Armed Forces Chief Gen. Humberto Regalado all have insisted recently that no contra training will be permitted in Honduras.

Lisandro Quesada, the Honduran presidential press spokesman, said in an interview that the United States has not asked to train contras in this country. If it were to ask, he said, "The position of Honduras would be firm for not training troops here even if it were covert."

But two other Honduran officials said privately that Honduras is likely to agree to covert U.S. training of contras in Honduras.

"I don't doubt that an agreement can be reached," said one official.

The second Honduran said that U.S. economic and military aid to Honduras gives Washington strong leverage for pressuring Tegucigalpa to permit the training.

Aid Can Be Pressure

"We know that we need aid from the United States, and that the aid can be discontinued if we are in conflict with the United States," he said. "If a moment comes when they want to pressure, they will do it."

The $100 million contra aid package approved by Congress carries an additional $300 million in economic aid to Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala. Honduras is expected to receive $90 million of the $300 million, while $70 million would go to each of the other three countries.

The Reagan Administration is also planning a sizable increase in regular military and economic aid to Honduras in the next fiscal year. If all goes according to plan, total U.S. aid to the country will rise to about $340 million from this year's $200 million.

Contras based in Honduras have been fighting the Marxist-led Sandinista government of Nicaragua for about five years. The CIA provided the contras with more than $85 million in secret aid between 1981 and 1984, when Congress halted the program.

Renewed Military Aid

Last year, Congress approved $27 million in "humanitarian" aid to the contras, but maintained the ban on military training and supplies. This summer, Congress approved the $100 million aid package, $70 million for direct military aid and $30 million for other supplies and assistance.

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