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Nicaragua Plans Force of 600,000 : Also Aims to Get Advanced MIGs, Missiles, Artillery

December 13, 1987|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The Nicaraguan government will boost the ranks of its armed forces to 600,000 by 1995 under a defense agreement with the Soviet Union and aims to acquire advanced Soviet-made MIG fighter planes, missiles and artillery, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega said Saturday.

Ortega also admitted that the Sandinista government continues to help leftist guerrillas in El Salvador, with training in anti-aircraft weapons.

The defense minister made the disclosures apparently to blunt the damage of anticipated public revelation of statements by his former chief of staff, Maj. Roger Miranda Bengoechea, who defected to the United States in October. Sandinista officials had previously denied aiding the Salvadoran rebels.

Interviewed in Washington

Miranda was interviewed by reporters at the State Department in Washington last week and, among other things, said that secret military agreements have been negotiated with the Soviet Union and Cuba that call for a major military build-up, including the delivery of MIG-21 jets and enough arms for a Sandinista military force of 500,000 full- and part-time soldiers, the Washington Post reported.

The massive troop mobilization described by Ortega on Saturday--twice what the Sandinistas had disclosed before--would put nearly one of every five Nicaraguans in the Sandinista army, militia, reserves or security forces. It would make this impoverished nation among the most militarized in the Americas.

In a speech to labor leaders, Ortega said U.S.-backed Nicaraguan guerrillas are on the verge of defeat. But he said the military must expand and acquire more modern weapons to discourage a U.S. military intervention to end Sandinista rule.

Ortega, the brother of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, said that 250,000 men and women are now under arms and "soon we are going to be 300,000."

"We need to have an adequate defense in case another (President) Reagan comes along, not to mention what Reagan can do before his term is over," Ortega said.

Top-Level Access

Miranda, who had access to top-level meetings and sensitive documents here, is being debriefed by the CIA in Washington. During an interview that lasted more than four hours, he revealed to the Post details of the Sandinistas' 15-year military covenant with Moscow, dating from 1980, and covert aid to the Salvadoran rebels.

The Post said that Miranda was interviewed in a guarded State Department conference room on the same day that Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev were discussing easing military tensions in Nicaragua at the White House. The interview was arranged and monitored by State Department officials, the Post added.

News of the interview was scheduled to be made public this weekend.

Without mentioning Miranda, Ortega in his speech in Managua, said that the Reagan Administration is preparing "a campaign of slander to confuse public opinion and achieve congressional approval of $270 million" in new aid to the Nicaraguan Contras.

Defends Right to Ties

"They are trying to make people think it is something illicit, something terrible that Nicaragua, a sovereign country, has relations with the socialist bloc in the field of defense," he said. "Well, Nicaragua has the right to have relations with any country in the world."

Under the 15-year pact with the Soviets, which runs through 1995, Nicaragua plans to acquire modern radar, air defense systems, artillery, tanks, MIG jet fighters and coastal patrol boats, Ortega said.

The Reagan Administration has threatened to destroy MIGs on the ground if Nicaragua acquires them. Ortega did not say when he expected Nicaragua to receive the MIGs, but as he has done before, he declared that the Sandinistas' have the "right to possess these planes, whether Reagan likes it or not."

Ortega gave no other details about the planned acquisitions but said that "several thousand" Nicaraguan soldiers are taking courses in the Soviet Union, Cuba and other socialist countries to learn to operate the new weapons systems.

The United States has closely monitored Nicaragua's military acquisitions from the Soviet Bloc since the Marxist-led Sandinistas defeated President Anastasio Somoza's National Guard in the climax to an insurrection in the late 1970s and installed a leftist revolutionary government here.

Size Surprises Observers

But Western military observers said they were surprised by both the current and projected sizes of military manpower outlined by Ortega. They had estimated the number of Nicaraguans currently under arms at no more than 200,000.

The size of the military given by Ortega includes about 85,000 regular army troops and 15,000 security police. The rest are militiamen and reserves.

In addition to what he said about a Nicaraguan arms buildup, Miranda also made the following assertions during his interview last week, according to the Washington Post:

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