Honduras to pull troops soon from Iraq
In a blow to U.S. President Bush and his coalition partners in Iraq, Honduras on Monday followed Spain in announcing it will pull its troops out of the country.
"I have told the coalition countries that the troops are going to return from Iraq," President Ricardo Maduro said in a speech on national television and radio.
"I have ordered... the carrying out of the decision taken in the shortest possible time and under safe conditions for our troops."
Soldiers from Honduras, a strong U.S. ally in Central America, were sent to Iraq last summer as peacekeepers only and have been clearing mines and providing medical care in central Iraq.
They had previously been set to leave when their mandate expires in July.
Honduras said earlier Monday it was considering the withdrawal due to spiraling violence and pressure created by Spain's decision to pull its forces out.
Many Hondurans have questioned why their troops should remain in Iraq now that Spain was withdrawing and congressional leaders had voiced concern for the troops' safety.
El Salvador, another Central American nation with troops in Iraq, said it will keep its 300 soldiers on Iraqi soil until the start of August, the end of a scheduled six-month stay.
"We are going to fulfill the pledge we have made," presidential spokesman Carlos Flores told Reuters. He did not say what would happen beyond early August. El Salvador's president-elect, Tony Saca, takes office on June 1.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Monday each country in the U.S.-led coalition would make "individual decisions" whether to stay in Iraq as conditions there change.
Boucher said he believed there was no change in the status of troops from Nicaragua, another U.S. ally in Central America which has sent troops to Iraq.
Nicaraguan troops came home earlier this year as part of a normal rotation but a new contingent has not been sent to Iraq because the government says it is short of cash.
Once the scene of bitter conflicts in the Cold War, Central American countries have been eager to build on close trade and immigration ties with the United States by cooperating in the occupation of Iraq.
Honduras, a small banana-exporting country, allowed pro-U.S. Nicaraguan "Contra" rebels to operate from its soil in the 1980s. It also sponsored a resolution at a U.N. human rights body last week that condemned Cuba's rights record.