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Honduras to Withdraw Troops From Iraq 

By Freddy Cuevas

Tuesday, March 16, 2004 "The Associated Press"
- TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Honduras, following the lead of Spain, will withdraw its 370 troops from a Spanish-led humanitarian and peacekeeping brigade in Iraq by the end of June, Defense Secretary Federico Breve said Tuesday.

The decision marked an about-face from a day earlier when President Ricardo Maduro said the forces would stay.

Tuesday's announcement "coincides with the decision of the prime minister-elect of the Spanish government," Breve said.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the socialist candidate who won Spain's elections Sunday, has called the Iraq invasion an error, and said he would recall Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30 unless the United Nations assumes control of multinational military operations there.

As suspicion mounted that al-Qaida was behind Thursday's terror attacks in Madrid that killed 201 people and wounded 1,600, there was mounting criticism of outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar for being to closely allied to the United States and making Spain a terrorist target.

Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua all have sent soldiers to the Spanish-led Plus Ultra Brigade to do humanitarian and peacekeeping work.

Salvadoran Defense Secretary Gen. Juan Martinez said Tuesday that the country would keep its troops in Iraq no matter what.

"We have to follow through with what our government decided" contrary.

Honduras sent its first contingent of 370 soldiers to Iraq in August, and replaced it with a second group of the same size last month. The country had said from the beginning it would only commit its troops for a year.

El Salvador sent its first group of 360 soldiers to help the Ultra Plus Brigade last August. A replacement group of 380 soldiers arrived last month, and is scheduled to stay until August of this year.

Whether additional troops are sent after that may depend on the outcome of Sunday's presidential elections, disputed by Tony Saca, of the conservative ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance, and Schafik Handal, of the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front.

Current Salvadoran President Francisco Flores has stressed that the help it sent to Iraq is in thanks for the international community's backing of 1992 peace accords that ended El Salvador's 12-year civil war.

Nicaragua sent about 115 soldiers, mostly sappers and medical personnel, last September to join the brigade. Those troops have since returned, and the government announced last month that it could not afford to send a second contingent.

All three countries announced Monday that they were tightening security at major ports, airports and several embassies that might be vulnerable to attack.

2004 The Associated Press 

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