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Hondurans on Nicaragua truce: skepticism and dollop of hope

Amid the clatter of a lunch-time crowd in a downtown Tegucigalpa restaurant, the Honduran banker pondered the prospect of peace in neighboring Nicaragua. ``This is a really positive step. We all hope both sides comply,'' said Humberto Diaz of last week's cease-fire agreement between the Sandinistas and contra rebels.

But a prominent architect expressed the skepticism felt by many Hondurans: ``I really don't think both sides have the will to carry it through.''

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The news of the Nicaraguan accord has been greeted here with cautious optimism and a glimmer of hope that the six-year-old Nicaraguan war just might be coming to a close.

Besides Nicaragua, Honduras probably has more to gain from the peace than any other Central American nation. The winding down of the war would mean an end to border clashes between Honduras and Nicaragua and could pave the way for thousands of Nicaraguan refugees to return home.

Since their creation, the contras have maintained their base camps in southern Honduras. The presence of the bases and contra forays into Nicaragua have spurred numerous border clashes between Honduras and Nicaragua.

Only two weeks ago, Honduran warplanes bombed Sandinista Army positions in both Honduras and Nicaragua after the Sandinistas pushed into Honduras in a bid to wipe out the rebels' rear bases and supplies.

In reaction, President Reagan sent 3,200 US combat troops in a show of support for Honduras. The troops are scheduled to begin heading home today.

Since 1979, when the Sandinistas overthrew the regime of Anastasio Somoza, more than 200,000 refugees have fled into Honduras to escape the war or Sandinista rule. The refugees compete with Hondurans for jobs and scarce resources.

``The refugees have a very high social cost for us,'' says Marco Tulio Romero, spokesman for Honduran President Jos'e Azcona Hoyo. ``They are peasants and have many needs.''

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The Honduran government responds cautiously to the cease-fire. ``It is a positive step,'' Romero says. ``Anything that leads to internal reconciliation in Nicaragua is favorable for us. It will be better if ... the cease-fire can be made permanent.''

The agreement signed in Sapoa, Nicaragua, calls for a 60-day truce. Discussions on a permanent cease-fire are scheduled to begin in Managua on April 6. Meanwhile, the contras are to move into zones within Nicaragua, though they are not required to lay down their arms.

``With 12,000 armed contras, the worst case [for Honduras] would be if none of them go back to Nicaragua,'' the architect says. But if the cease-fire works and fighters reintegrate into Nicaraguan society, ``we lose [a very serious] problem,'' he adds.

According to one Honduran political analyst, the only Hondurans who stand to lose by peace are the military. The threat of war - without war itself - he suggests, has been a boon to military coffers. The officers can justify large budgets and are assured of continuing support from the United States.

But most Hondurans await the outcome of the coming talks with some relief that the fighting has come to an end for now.

``Honduras is so poor and so dependent, '' Diaz says. ``No one wants to invest here because of the uncertainty. Honduras needs peace for development.'' -30-{et

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