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Contras Leader Complains of Delay in Arms Aid

November 21, 1986|DOYLE McMANUS | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The weapons the United States promised the Nicaraguan rebels have not yet reached the contra s' bases, even though they are under attack from Sandinista government forces, rebel leader Adolfo Calero complained Thursday.

Calero said that 70 of his men have begun training at an unidentified base in the United States but that the Reagan Administration is being "too cautious" in disbursing its $100 million in aid to the contras, who are fighting to overthrow Nicaragua's leftist regime.

"There is too much cautiousness," he complained in an interview after several days of meetings with Administration officials. "They're afraid of Congress. They're afraid of hearings. We're not afraid of hearings.

"Caution does not foster aggressiveness," he added.

Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams refused to comment on Calero's complaints. "Those are operational matters, and we don't go into those," he said.

Arms Shipments Delayed

Other U.S. officials and contra sources said, however, that the CIA has held up the first deliveries of arms to the rebels, apparently to ensure that the shipments meet all congressional requirements. They did not elaborate on what might be causing delay.

They said that the weapons should begin moving soon, but one official said Calero's vociferous complaints reflected growing friction between the contra leader and the CIA over who is in control of the military aid program.

Calero said he has complained about the delay to Administration officials and members of Congress. "I'm trying to put some chili on their tails," he said.

"There are too many strings on the aid," he said. "This is not permitting things to flow. Food has moved; some medicine has moved--but the rest of the stuff hasn't.

"We know we're going to get it," he said. "It's in the pipeline . . . but we need it sooner, not later."

Under the program Congress approved last spring, the CIA is to supply the rebels with anti-aircraft missiles and a variety of other weaponry--initially for defensive use, but ultimately to allow them to expand their war against the Sandinistas.

Honduras Bases Imperiled

The Managua regime has moved as many as 1,000 troops into southern Honduras to attack the contras' main camps there, U.S. and contras' officials say, apparently in hopes of damaging the rebel bases before the new arms arrive.

"We're doubly worried, because the Sandinistas are massing troops," Calero said. "That makes the aid more urgent."

The U.S. training of contras troops began about two weeks ago, Calero said. The CIA is running the courses, which were explicitly approved by Congress, as a covert program, officials said. The Administration initially wanted to train the contras in Central America, but decided last month to run the program in the United States after Central American governments objected to the idea.

Neither Calero nor U.S. officials would say where the training was going on, but several sources said it is taking place on a U.S. military base. "It's not in California," Calero did say.

Meanwhile, a Pentagon spokesman said there is evidence that Nicaragua recently received a new, more powerful anti-aircraft missile system from the Soviet Union. Such a missile would increase the range from which Sandinista troops could shoot down the contras' supply planes.

The spokesman, Robert Sims, said "there are indications" that the Sandinistas now have SA-14 ground-to-air missiles. The SA-14 is a shoulder-guided missile with a range of 14,000 feet.

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