TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — A small band of leftist guerrillas, reportedly backed by neighboring Nicaragua, is struggling to gain a foothold in the mountains of northern Honduras, according to authorities here.
It is the third attempt since mid-1983 to establish a guerrilla movement in Honduras. The previous tries failed, and Honduran army officers said this week that counterinsurgency troops have the latest rebel group on the run.
Nevertheless, authorities here are not complacent about the insurgency threat, a military source said. "The Hondurans are taking it very seriously," he said.
Marxist-led guerrilla movements have plagued the governments of neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala for years, and Nicaragua's Sandinistas fought a guerrilla war before they overthrew the government of Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
Honduras harbors U.S.-backed anti-Sandinista guerrillas, known as contras, which gives the Sandinistas a possible motive for supporting a Honduran insurgent group.
The United States has accused Nicaragua of helping Cuban-trained Honduran rebels who tried to establish guerrilla movements in this country in 1983 and 1984. Both groups were crushed by the Honduran army.
Honduran army officers say Nicaragua also has helped the latest guerrilla group, which is part of a clandestine organization called the Cinchoneros.
Cinchoneros is a Honduran term for peasants who carry machetes hanging from their belts. The late Honduran novelist Medardo Mejia, a leftist, romanticized the deeds of a cinchonero who rose up in rebellion against the land-owning class.
The latest band of guerrillas was discovered in the Nombre de Dios mountains of northern Atlantida province early in October after a man who said he belonged to a column of 10 rebels gave himself up to authorities.
Using information from him, an army task force with helicopter support flushed out the rebel column on Oct. 10 and killed two members in a gun battle. One soldier was killed, the army said, but a rebel communique put the government death toll at six.
The army said a search of the mountain area uncovered several small rebel camps and supply caches that included automatic rifles.
On Sunday, a police sergeant was killed in a second clash with the same guerrilla column. The column now is reported to have seven members, six men and a woman.
Col. Alvaro Romero, an army battalion commander in Atlantida province, told Honduran reporters this week that the rebels have been cut off from their supply sources and are likely to be captured soon. Capt. Carlos Quezada, army chief of protocol, said some 30 or more other rebels apparently are operating in the same mountain chain.
Other Groups May Be in Area
"We are convinced that it is a single group that operates in different parts of the Nombre de Dios chain," Quezada said.
Another Honduran army source in Atlantida province said by telephone that there apparently are three additional columns of about 15 members each that have not been engaged by army troops. The source said the guerrillas are "more or less" surrounded, but he gave no details.
Officers in La Ceiba, the capital of Atlantida province, showed reporters what they said were captured rebel documents revealing that the guerrillas infiltrated Honduras from Nicaragua with Sandinista help. Officers also have said that, according to the guerrilla who turned himself in, nine of the 10 members of his column had received training in Nicaragua.
Victor Meza, the director of an independent Honduran think tank, said there is no doubt that Nicaragua and Cuba have helped the guerrillas.
"They have been trained in Cuba and have had combat practice in Nicaragua," Meza said in an interview. He said the Sandinista army sent the Hondurans to the field with battalions fighting the contras.
But Meza also said he doubted that there are more guerrillas in the Nombre de Dios mountains than the single column tracked down by the army.