Contras Offer Plan for Truce in Nicaragua
Nicaraguan rebel leaders outlined a truce proposal Tuesday that calls for an end to Sandinista control over major areas of Nicaraguan life as a condition for halting their guerrilla war.
The proposal would freeze the positions of Sandinista and Contra troops and bar both sides from rearming during a cease-fire. The Contras would lay down their weapons only when a process of “irreversible democratization” is under way in Nicaragua and when the Sandinistas agree to joint control of a new national army.
Exiled civilian leaders of the U.S.-backed insurgency issued their 15-point plan here after Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic primate, agreed to mediate cease-fire negotiations. He summoned both sides to open separate talks with him Thursday in the Dominican Republic.
The rebel document rejects most elements of the 11-point Sandinista position announced Nov. 13, which calls on the Contras simply to disarm within a month and return to civilian life. The rebels’ demands would require political discussions that the government has repeatedly ruled out.
“We can never accept disarmament as the first stage of a truce,” said Alfredo Cesar, a rebel leader. “It must proceed in pace with the democratization of Nicaragua.”
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, architect of the Central American peace accord that spawned the truce talks, said Tuesday that “the positions on both sides sound a little extreme.”
But Arias and U.S. House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), who met with leaders of both sides in Washington last month and is now visiting Costa Rica, expressed hope that the Sandinistas and the Contras are willing to compromise.
Because of looming deadlines set by the Aug. 7 peace accord, both proposals set the ambitious goal of negotiating a cease-fire within the coming week. The 40-day truce offered by the Contras would expire Jan. 17, two days after the five Central American presidents are to meet and judge progress made in achieving the terms of the accord.
Rebel leaders said their offer could be extended if there is no peace agreement by then and if the presidents call for talks to continue.
President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua received the Contra document Monday, but his government had no comment on it.
Ortega reversed a Sandinista position held throughout the six-year-old conflict when he agreed Nov. 5 to hold indirect talks with the Contra leadership. But he said only the technical aspects of a cease-fire would be negotiated.
Sandinista officials have said they will refuse to consider any rebel demands for political concessions beyond those that Managua agreed to in signing the regional peace pact, which calls for an open democratic system.
The Contra truce proposal calls for a general amnesty, an end of Nicaragua’s wartime state of emergency, complete press freedom, restoration of the right to strike and the “full observance” of human rights. The Sandinistas have pledged to take those steps when outside aid to the Contras is stopped.
But the rebels are also saying that a truce cannot take effect until Managua abolishes military conscription, state subsidies to Sandinista-owned news media, state-owned collective farms, party-controlled neighborhood vigilante committees and food rationing.
While none of those practices and institutions is banned by the peace accord, Contra leaders argue that they give the Marxist-led Sandinistas near-absolute power and therefore violate the accord’s requirement of “total political pluralism.”
“The peace accord doesn’t say anything about the draft,” Cesar said. “But forced recruitment is incompatible with peace. If the draft continues, it means they want to continue the war.”
May Soften Demands
The rebel leader said the proposal “is not an ultimatum,” indicating some of the truce conditions could be softened.
But he emphasized in an interview what appears to be an inflexible position against a government proposal to move Contra troops into three truce zones totaling 4,200 square miles.
The rebels proposed that their 10,000 or more combatants be left unmolested in their current “areas of control” during a truce.
Those areas, rebel leaders say, are a patchwork of sparsely populated mountainous terrain covering 26,500 square miles within the eastern two-thirds of Nicaragua. The rebel proposal did not map them and left it to Obando to determine where exactly each side’s troops would be confined.
Sandinista officials do not recognize rebel control over any part of the country, but they have been unable to surround and defeat large contingents of the hit-and-run guerrilla army.
The rebel offer would bar either army from rearming or moving its troops during a truce. Sandinista authorities would guarantee basic services and freedoms to civilians in rebel truce zones. Non-lethal aid to troops on both sides would be controlled by an organization of common agreement.
Details of the cease-fire mechanics would be hammered out by a joint military panel and enforced by a commission of Central Americans named by the cardinal, according to the rebel proposal.
Rebel leaders made a clear distinction between the cease-fire, during which their troops would remain alert to resume the war, and disarmament. They said the threat of renewed fighting would force the Sandinistas to make all the democratic reforms required by the peace accord.
“The Nicaraguan people aspire to a whole and functioning pluralist and participative democracy, including a judicial system based on social justice and respect for individual rights and liberties,” said a statement of principles issued with the rebel proposal. “Only when these conditions exist and are fully guaranteed will the Nicaraguan Resistance trade its bullets for ballots.”
Rebel leaders said they will trust the judgment of Obando, long a leading critic of Sandinista rule, as to whether their conditions are met.
“The cardinal has to be the big judge,” said rebel leader Alfonso Robelo.
The proposal gave no timetable for disarmament, but Cesar said some rebel leaders wanted to keep troops in the field until after the Sandinistas hold municipal elections, which could take place this year. National elections are not scheduled until 1990.