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Aim of Sandinista offensive unclear

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The Sandinista Army has launched a major offensive in northern Nicaragua against the US-backed contra rebels. The offensive was reported late Tuesday evening. It comes a week before the next round of cease-fire talks, which are scheduled to begin Monday. For the first time, the Sandinista-contra talks are to be direct and held inside Nicaragua.

A Defense Ministry spokeswoman here confirmed late Tuesday that the offensive was under way ``near the frontier'' with Honduras.

But at press time Wednesday, the Defense Ministry refused to confirm or deny its troops entered Honduran territory. ``We are looking into the reports,'' an officer said. ``It's serious and that's why I can't say yes or no.''

[In Washington yesterday, the Reagan administration accused Nicaragua of invading Honduras with 1,500 troops on Wednesday to strike at contra bases. The administration said it was consulting closely with Honduras and considering all its options. Washington said the offensive is aimed at destroying contra supply depots, which contain substantial proportions of the contras' remaining supplies.]

Unconfirmed reports say the fighting was centered near Bocay and Bonanza. Both towns have been the scene of regular fighting for several years. Bonanza was the site last December of the largest contra attack in seven years when several hundred rebels overran a Sandinista outpost.

This week's offensive took many by surprise, coming just before the next round of talks. The two delegations leading the direct talks in Sapoa will include the highest-ranking officials involved in negotiations since they began last year.

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