The U.S.-funded Nicaraguan rebels are guilty of systematic violations of the laws of war, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians, assassination of suspected opponents and widespread kidnaping, a human rights organization charged Monday.
The group, Americas Watch, also accused Nicaragua's Sandinista government of human rights abuses but said that the regime does not regularly violate the laws of war as the contras do.
The Reagan Administration and rebel officials heatedly denied the charges against the contras. The Administration is expected to ask Congress for renewed funding for the contras soon, and opponents of continued aid say that the rebels' human rights record will be one of their central arguments.
"Violations of the laws of armed conflict by the contras cause great suffering to the Nicaraguan people," Americas Watch said in its annual report on human rights in Nicaragua.
"They still engage in selective but systematic killing of persons they perceive as representing the government, in indiscriminate attacks against civilians . . . and in outrages against the personal dignity of prisoners," it said. "The contras also engage in widespread kidnaping of civilians, apparently for purposes of recruitment as well as intimidation; a significant number of the kidnap victims are children."
Liberal Bias Charged
In rejecting these charges, Administration and contra officials accused Americas Watch, a largely liberal group, of a bias in favor of the leftist Sandinistas.
"It's clear by now that Americas Watch is at least as interested in political polemics as in human rights," State Department spokesman Gregory Lagana said. "The idea that there's a systematic pattern of abuses by the contras is just nonsense."
"Our policy is not to engage in any offenses against human rights," said Salvador Stadthagen, one of the contras' representatives in Washington. "We question the unbiased position of Americas Watch."
The 170-page report also criticized the Sandinistas for censorship, abusive interrogation of prisoners and violations of citizens' rights to due process of law. Americas Watch noted that the Managua government "has the right, under international law, to suspend certain rights" because of the contras' war, "but in our view the restrictions go beyond what is reasonably required."
However, it added: "The government of Nicaragua does not engage in a pattern of violation of the laws of war. Nor does it engage in systematic violations of the right to life . . . (or) a deliberate pattern of forced disappearances of persons."
The report charged that the contras are responsible for all civilian casualties from the use of land mines inside Nicaragua and said that the rebels' stated intention to attack government-sponsored farming cooperatives is a violation of the laws of war.