MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The leftist Sandinista government confirmed Wednesday that U.S.-backed contras shot down an army helicopter last weekend during heavy fighting in northern Nicaragua. The government previously has denied losing any helicopters to enemy fire.
A Defense Ministry statement said that the Soviet-made MI-17 helicopter was shot down during a major offensive against rebels in Jinotega province, about 100 miles northeast of Managua. It said the four crewmen aboard the helicopter were killed.
On Monday, the contras released a statement in Honduras that said their forces shot down the MI-17 helicopter with a SAM-7 missile. The statement said the helicopter was the fourth of its type the contras have destroyed this year.
Nicaraguan Defense Minister Humberto Ortega told reporters Wednesday that 3,000 government soldiers attacked a rebel stronghold Sunday at the confluence of the Bocay and Hamaca rivers, near the Honduran border, forcing 800 contras back into Honduras. Ortega said that after the attack, soldiers found 32 dead rebels and "various supplies" abandoned in the jungle. The defense minister didn't disclose government casualties.