San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Honduras Withdraws Troops From Iraq

FOLLOWING a similar decision by Spain, Honduras President Ricardo Maduro announced Monday that the country’s troops will be withdrawn from Iraq as soon as possible.

Minister of Defense Federico Brevé reported Tuesday that troops could be home in six to eight weeks, although he added, “it is not a rapid execution … and we cannot guarantee a specific time.”

Spain’s decision to pull out of Iraq also inspired the Dominican Republic to announce it will withdraw 302 troops, which along with 369 Hondurans and 374 Salvadorans formed part of the Ultra Plus Brigade dispatched in Najaf, 160 miles south of Baghdad, under the command of Spain and Poland.

NICARAGUA had already decided against sending a second contingent to Iraq to replace the 115 soldiers who returned home in March, saying it had not received external financing for the cost of the mission.

Despite increased pressure to follow its neighbors’ suit, El Salvador remains the only Latin American or Caribbean country that has decided to keep its troops in Iraq.

“There is no change at all to the commitment El Salvador has in maintaining troops and continuing to contribute to the reconstruction and peace process in Iraq,” said

Vice-President Carlos Quintanilla. “Until the President (Francisco Flores) can say something different, the Salvadoran presence will be maintained in these moments.”

THE decision, however, has reinvigorated Salvadoran critics, who say the latest violence in Iraq represents an increased risk to the country’s troops.

“We cannot stop insisting the government of (Francisco Flores) committed an error in sending the soldiers to Iraq.

Therefore, we are also going to continue insisting that we follow the example (of the three countries that are withdrawing) and bring back our soldiers to El Salvador for their safety,” said leftist legislator Blanca Flor Bonilla, of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN.

REGARDING the return of Honduran troops, Brevé said he hopes for the collaboration of “friendly forces” during the transport of the troops to Kuwait to ensure their safety.

“If we use the same road on which we entered Iraq, via Kuwait, the transfer from An Nayaf to Kuwait took approximately 14 hours by land; so, obviously we will need the support of friendly forces to accompany us for our security,” he said, in apparent reference to the United States.

The necessary steps have already been initiated with the U.S. Central Command, which coordinates operations in Iraq, for the return, Brevé said.

“WE see no reason why the (United States) wouldn’t lend its help in the return of these troops,” he said, ruling out the possibility that the withdrawal could produce problems in relations with the United States.

“We have been there for nearly nine months. I believe this has been a period in which the participation of Honduras has been excellent in the process of reconstruction and within the established parameters,” Brevé said. The return is a decision of the President, based partially on Spain’s announcement, he added.

THE White House announced Wednesday it laments the decision of Honduras and the Dominican Republic, particularly in a moment when “the enemies of liberty are trying to derail the transition to sovereignty.”

President George W. Bush’s spokesman Scott McClellan assured that, notwithstanding, the withdrawal of troops from these countries will not affect the coalition.

McClellan said Poland, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Portugal, “and many other” countries have expressed their intention to remain on the battleground.

Violence has not stopped in Iraq, where thousands of people have died during the yearlong armed conflict.

Recent attacks include mortars dropped on the Salvadoran and Honduran base Wednesday morning. The attack produced no victims or material damage, sources said.


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