Contras Agree on Unity Plan : Would Put Guerrillas Under Civilian Control

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Times Staff Writer

Nicaragua’s anti-Sandinista rebels announced agreements Thursday designed to overcome factional disputes within their organization and put their guerrilla operations under unified civilian control.

The rebels also announced measures aimed at countering allegations of corrupt practices and human rights abuses by their members.

The announcements were part of efforts by the contras to show unity and probity as Congress considers whether to give them $100 million in new aid.


Chronic Divisions

The rebel movement has been beset by chronic internal divisions during more than four years of guerrilla warfare against the Marxist-led Sandinista government.

In an attempt at unity last year, rebel leaders formed an umbrella organization called United Nicaraguan Opposition, known by its acronym, UNO, which means “one” in Spanish.

But UNO failed to end the squabbling. Two of its three directors, Arturo Cruz and Alfonso Robelo, were frequently at odds with the third, Adolfo Calero.

Cruz and Robelo are both former Sandinista government officials who defected. Calero, who opposed the Sandinista government from its beginning in 1979, is the civilian chief of the Honduran-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force, by far the largest contra military group.

On Thursday, the three met with the press and said they have reached agreement on a broad range of issues during more than two weeks of meetings in Miami.

“We have been able to strengthen our unity and eliminate some differences that existed,” Robelo said. “UNO has been consolidated, UNO is stronger than ever before, and this will reflect in the effectiveness of UNO’s struggle, both politically and militarily.”


A key agreement announced Thursday was on decision-making procedures by the three UNO directors.

All decisions previously had to be made by unanimous “consensus.” Calero had used the “consensus” rule to veto measures that Robelo and Cruz agreed upon. “We found that it didn’t work properly,” Robelo said.

Appeal Possible

Under the new agreement, some decisions can be made by a majority vote and all decisions may be appealed to an advisory council.

Decisions still requiring consensus include changes in the rebel military command. Robelo and Cruz reportedly have tried unsuccessfully to change some officers in the Nicaraguan Democratic Force.

The force is headed by Enrique Bermudez, who was a colonel in the Nicaraguan National Guard before the Sandinistas overthrew President Anastasio Somoza in 1979. No military command changes were announced Thursday, and Cruz said none are foreseen as a result of the meeting.

But a statement distributed in the press conference said the three leaders agreed on steps aimed at merging three rebel military groups into one.


“The integration of all rebel forces into one armed organization under the civilian authority of UNO has been established as an objective, so that no member of the alliance has an army,” the statement said.

Will Form Commission

To reach that goal, it said, a new “military commission” will be created and led by the three UNO directors. Also on the commission will be the chiefs of the three guerrilla organizations, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, KISAN and UNO-South.

The Democratic Force is believed to have between 12,000 and 17,000 fighters. KISAN, an Indian guerrilla group that operates along the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, has up to 2,000 members. UNO-South, which operates along Nicaragua’s southern border with Costa Rica, has 2,500 to 3,000 members, according to Robelo.

He said that UNO-South’s ranks have been expanded in recent weeks by former followers of Eden Pastora, a guerrilla commander who has quit the war and asked for political asylum in Costa Rica.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that officials of rival factions said a CIA contact induced six of Pastora’s top lieutenants to defect by offering them military aid if they joined other commands. The agent was identified only by the cover name Armando, and the rebels were not told where the aid would originate.

Edge in Power Struggles

Calero’s position as civilian chief of the largest military group had given him an advantage in the internal power struggles of UNO. The agreement announced Thursday emphasizes a balance of power “to prevent the predominance of one organization over the others.”


Calero, Robelo and Cruz will take turns of one month each as UNO spokesman, according to the agreement.

On other points, the agreement calls for:

--The addition of three “non-Nicaraguan members of proven humanistic vocation” to a human rights commission created by UNO last year. The commission was established as a response to allegations by human rights organizations that contra forces have repeatedly committed human rights violations, including the killing and kidnaping of civilians.

--The formation of a commission of Nicaraguans “not associated with UNO” to review its procedures for collecting and spending resources. UNO said widespread allegations that it has misused private donations and U.S. aid are part of a “slanderous campaign.”

In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman called the UNO agreement “an extremely positive step in broadening the leadership of the resistance, strengthening civilian control and improving coordination of military activities. We congratulate the UNO leadership on their personal commitment and political will.”

CIA Handles Most Aid

The United States has provided more than $100 million in aid to the contras, most of it “covert” military assistance handled by the CIA.

Congress cut off military assistance in mid-1984 but voted last year to provide $27 million in “humanitarian aid” such as food, medicine, uniforms and boots.


Last April, the House of Representatives rejected a $100 million package of military and humanitarian aid to the contras that was proposed by the Administration. A new congressional debate on the issue is expected in mid-June.

Asked if UNO’s Miami agreements could help persuade Congress to approve new aid, Robelo said: “Logically, the answer is yes, but that was not the reason to get together. The reason to get together is the need for reviewing our bases, our principles, our structure.”

Denied Pressure

Robelo denied what he called “absolutely and totally false” reports that the new show of unity was a result of pressure from the Reagan Administration.

At the end of the press conference, Robelo and Cruz held up T-shirts printed with a quote from President Reagan: “I’m a contra too.” Calero put one of the T-shirts on.

Reports that U.S. pressure resulted in the unity agreement are ‘absolutely and totally false.’