The defeat in the United States Congress of aid to the Nicaraguan contra rebels could destabilize Honduras, according to many diplomats and other observers in Central America. The concern here is that thousands of well-armed, battle-hardened rebel troops will flood Honduras where they could clash with any Honduran troops sent to disarm them.
Even if the fighters do not pose a military threat, a large influx of Nicaraguan refugees is expected as thousands of rebels head to Honduras with their families, diplomats and other observers say.
Government spokesman Lizandro Quezada said yesterday that Honduras fears Nicaragua may fail to make promised democratic reforms after the US military aid cutoff. Earlier this week, top Honduran officials made veiled appeals for continued aid.
Estimates here vary on how long it will take for contra combat operations to begin deteriorating. (Current US aid ends Feb. 29.) Some diplomats say they think many fighters will give up and begin making their way to Honduras as soon as they hear of the cutoff. Others say the rebels will fight until they begin to run out of supplies, which could take several months.
Those leaders who said they would keep fighting refused to discount the possibility they could get funds from sources other than the US administration. A news report from Washington this week said the Reagan administration had made contingency plans to ask other countries to fund the rebels if US aid were stopped.
No one expects the entire rebel army to return to Honduras. Estimates vary, but all sources say a portion of the force will fight on in the Nicaraguan mountains; others will accept a Sandinista amnesty and try to reintegrate into Nicaraguan life; still others will come here.
The vast majority of rebels will keep fighting, said Bosco Matamorros, a spokesman for the Nicaraguan Resistance, the formal name of the rebel organization, after the House vote Wednesday. ``We exist of our own determination, not because of any promises from the US.'' The number of rebels who will abandon the fight will be ``marginal,'' less than a third, he added.
Mr. Matamorros did not know if the rebels would meet as scheduled next week with the Sandinistas in Guatemala for a second round of direct peace talks. ``The directorate will meet to reevaluate the whole situation,'' he said.
Publicly, the contras have been stoic about the possible end of their struggle, but occasional flashes of bitterness show through. One director, Ar'istides S'anchez, said a cutoff would be ``another example of betrayal by the US.''
The Honduran military has made it clear that it will not allow thousands of abandoned contras to set up camp as it did during the previous aid cutoff, although no specific plans to deal with the expected influx of contra fighters have been announced.