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Nicaraguan contra war forces Hondurans to flee border homes

Jos'e Valeriano P'erez, a poor peasant farmer, is part of the growing number of Hondurans who have been displaced from their homes by the Nicaraguan contra war. Mr. Valeriano and his wife and three children left their small farm three miles from the Honduran-Nicaraguan border on the orders of the Honduran Army.

The Army told the Valeriano family and hundreds of others in the border area to leave several weeks ago because it anticipated heavy fighting between Nicaraguan troops and the Nicaraguan contra rebels with the first installment of United States aid to the contras. The base camps of the largest anti-Sandinista rebel group, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), are not far from the Valerianos' village of Amparo.

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After walking for three days, the family reached Las Trojes - a Honduran border community of 4,500 people at the western edge of what is known locally as the ``recovered zone.'' This triangular section of Honduran territory that juts southward into Nicaragua was ceded from Nicaragua 25 years ago.

Almost since the rebels opened bases in south-central Honduras in 1982, the Sandinistas have bombarded the area with artillery. And Sandinista troops have made frequent forays into Honduras, where they have sown land mines and fought contra troops.

Border residents and informed sources in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa say Sandinista attacks appear to be intensifying as they try to choke off contra infiltration routes into Nicaragua before the rebels receive new supplies bought with the $100 million in US aid. The Sandinistas are even installing permanent positions inside Honduras, informed sources say.

``Since Oct. 25, they have been arriving, and some are still on the road,'' said Daniel Caranza P'erez, who works with the displaced in Las Trojes. He said 115 new families have been helped, and 75 more are expected in the coming days - representing a total of about 1,500 people.

Thousands of displaced Hondurans already live in Las Trojes. They face an uncertain future. For the most part, they are neglected by the Honduran government, which has never publicly recognized the contras operating on Honduran territory.

Although they do receive some food and tents from international agencies, they largely have to fend for themselves. Many have to find their own food, lodging, and whatever work they can. The UN High Commission for Refugees is unable to help the Honduran refugees because they have not crossed an international frontier. (It currently aids 50,000 Nicaraguans, Salvadoreans, and Guatemalans in Honduras.)

``The majority of the people don't want to leave their homes. But many are afraid that the Sandinistas will hurt them,'' said Reina Flores de Martin, who also helps the displaced in Las Trojes. Others like Valeriano stuck it out as long as they could.

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After abandoning his small farm where he grew coffee and other crops, he now shares a dirt-floor house with another family in Las Trojes. His family eats food provided by the US Agency for International Development and a Roman Catholic charity, Caritas. When asked if work was available, he laughed, shaking his head no.

With a fatalism common to those who have little control over their lives, most of the displaced accept their misfortune as life's latest challenge.

Some of those displaced from the border areas have moved to central Honduras where they are carving new farms in a remote and hostile environment.

``Only those with money go further on,'' said Ms. Flores de Martin. The rest live a marginal existence only miles from their homes. Many of the displaced are the poorest of Honduras' poor.

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