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Honduran diplomatic initiative breaks with US policy

In a major diplomatic initiative aimed at reducing Central American tensions, Honduras's foreign minister has called for the removal from Honduras of some 3, 000 followers of the late Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

It is widely believed that the ''Somocistas'' have contributed to tension along the frontier between Honduras and Nicaragua.

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The initiative by Edgardo Paz Barnica to dampen these tensions is being conducted in a roundabout way. Using the Geneva-based office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he apparently hopes to thwart his opponents in the Honduran Army and the United States.

Because the initiative is intensely political in nature, it has caused considerable discomfort and even confusion in the UN agency. Nevertheless, the high commissioner, former Danish Prime Minister Poul Hartling, is expected to announce shortly which, if any, countries are prepared to receive and resettle the 3,000.

Mr. Paz Barnica's initiative represents a dramatic reversal of current Honduran and US policy, which is to exert as much pressure as possible on the left-wing regime in Nicaragua along the border. US military aid to Honduras doubled this year to $10.6 million and is due to increase to $16 million in 1983 .

The two armies have held joint maneuvers in the border region, and the largest military camp in Honduras is currently under construction at Durzuna, some 25 miles from the Nicaraguan border.

A UN official who returned from the region last week said that troops of the elite 5th, or Puma, battalion are being ferried in by US Army Hercules planes. This arms buildup has been matched by Nicaragua, which has cleared the border area and is expanding the airport at Puerto Cabezas on the Atlantic coast.

There has also been a series of armed clashes between the two nations. After one raid on the Nicaraguan town of Francisco del Norte, launched from inside Honduras, the Somocistas claimed to have killed or wounded 35 people.

This escalation, in the view of some critics, is part of a US effort to destabilize the Nicaraguan government. But the military buildup presents Honduras - one of the poorest countries in Central America - with a dangerous and expensive crisis. Led by Foreign Minister Paz Barnica, some civilians around President Roberto Suazo Cordova want to break what they regard as a cycle of violence that has developed since Mr. Suazo Cordova's Liberal Party swept to an unexpected landslide election victory last November.

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On March 23, Paz Barnica, a former member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, proposed a six-point peace plan for the region. It included a call for the removal of all foreign military advisers. This latest initiative on the 3,000 Somocistas appears to fit into the pattern - except that it is a unilateral gesture by Honduras.

Precisely because it could prove so unpopular with the Honduran Army and the US, the initiative has been launched in a manner that first puzzled and then alarmed UN officials.

The opening gambit was a letter from Paz Barnica on July 30, calling for the removal of ''all refugees'' from Honduras.

He wrote that ''refugees generate problems which go far beyond the economic, touching the political and social spheres.'' The letter, couched in vague terms, caused dismay among UNHCR officials. There are 29,000 registered refugees in Honduras - 17,000 Salvadorans and 11,000 Miskito Indians, who fled from Nicaragua.

UNHCR policy holds that the rural background of these people makes them unfit for resettlement outside Central America. However, options for resettlement outside Honduras but within Central America have narrowed considerably with economic crises in Mexico and Costa Rica.

Paz Barnica's letter was also noteworthy in that it was run in the local press in Honduras even before it was sent to the UNHCR. And it came from the Foreign Ministry instead of the interior, which normally handles refugee matters.

No one assumed it referred to the Somocistas, who arrived after the Somoza government fell in 1979. They no longer receive UN assistance and are not, strictly speaking, considered refugees by the UN.

In retrospect, however, the letter seems a deliberate ploy by Paz Barnica to involve the UN in what is a domestic political issue, and so present his opponents in the government with a fait accompli.

Although Paz Barnica has no power base inside Honduras, the new government is still feeling its way. Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, the Honduran Army commander, was handpicked by President Suazo Cordova, but he has proved very much his own man - orchestrating a controversial push by Honduran troops against Salvadoran guerrillas into the embattled Salvadoran province of Morazan.

In Tegucigalpa, meanwhile, the Paz Barnica initiative has been kept under wraps. Queries from journalists have been met with a curt ''no comment.'' Sources say that the US Embassy has been kept in the dark. But Paz Barnica associates say the Somocistas must be sent out of Honduras as soon as possible.

Another reason for Paz Barnica's reticence is his realization that his plan's success depends on whether he can find countries to take the Somocistas. Several nations have turned him down. Canada and Mexico were appoached in June but have not yet replied.

UNHCR officials concede there is clearly reluctance on the part of many nations to accept the Somocistas, who are seen by many as right-wing desperadoes more akin to the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea than to refugees. Yet, they say, there is no doubt that the removal of the Somocistas would help significantly in easing the tension in Central America.

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