Managua Ready to Talk About Curbing Buildup : Apparently Backs Off on Soviet Aid Plan
President Daniel Ortega said Monday that Nicaragua is willing to negotiate over its plans for a 15-year military buildup if the United States stops funding the Contras and the Central American countries implement a peace agreement.
Ortega spoke to reporters in an apparent attempt to soften the stance taken by his brother, Defense Minister Humberto Ortega, who revealed Saturday that Nicaragua planned to expand its armed forces to 600,000 by 1995 and secure advanced weaponry from the Soviet Union.
“Logically in Nicaragua, which is at war, the army makes plans for the defense of the country and those plans include requests for materials,” Ortega said. “But if we end the war . . . if the peace accords are fulfilled--and that is our hope--then these plans would have to change because the Central American governments would discuss what we call a reasonable balance of forces, arms limitations and an agreement to banish all foreign military presence from the region,” he said.
The Central American peace plan, signed by the region’s five presidents in Guatemala on Aug. 7, calls for cease-fires and democratic reforms in countries at war and for regional arms negotiations. The plan also prohibits each country from allowing rebel groups to operate from its territory against a neighbor and calls for a halt to foreign aid to rebel forces.
Ortega said his brother was misinterpreted when he seemed to admit that Nicaragua is training Salvadoran guerrillas in the use of U.S.-supplied anti-aircraft missiles that Nicaragua has captured from the Contras.
Ortega said that the Sandinistas have not trained the elements of El Salvador’s Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front or supplied them with the SAM-7 missiles and have taken measures to ensure that the Salvadoran guerrillas do not use Nicaragua as an operations base. He did not specify what those measures were.
His brother, he said, had been questioning President Reagan’s right to complain that the Sandinistas are training Salvadoran guerrillas in the use of the missiles when the United States has given hundreds of missiles to the Contras. Humberto Ortega was raising “the moral issue” but did not mean to say that the Sandinistas had trained the guerrillas, President Ortega said.
U.S. and Salvadoran officials contend that Farabundo Marti guerrillas receive military supplies by way of Nicaragua and have communications and command centers here.
On Saturday, Humberto Ortega also told a convention of labor leaders that the military had to expand and acquire modern weapons to discourage U.S. military intervention to overthrow the Sandinistas. Under a 15-year pact with the Soviet Union, Nicaragua plans to acquire radar, air defense systems, artillery, tanks, coastal patrol boats and MIG fighters, he said.
The defense minister said several thousand Nicaraguan soldiers are being trained to use the new weapons systems in the Soviet Union, Cuba and other Communist countries.
He made the announcements in an apparent effort to preempt revelations by his former chief of staff, Maj. Roger Miranda Bengoechea, who defected to the United States in October with copies of military documents.
President Ortega accused the Reagan Administration of using Miranda’s declarations to try to win congressional approval for more aid for the Contras and to kill the peace accord by spreading distrust among the Central American countries.
“All Central American countries affected by war are receiving armaments and so are some countries that are not faced by insurgencies, such as Honduras,” the president said.
He denied Miranda’s statements that Nicaragua has contingency plans to capture U.S. hostages and attack its Central American neighbors in the event of a U.S. invasion. He also denied Miranda’s assertions that Sandinista leaders had deposited large sums of dollars in slush funds in banks in Panama and Switzerland.
In an hourlong interview, the president indicated that his defense minister’s militaristic posture may have been intended mainly for internal consumption. He noted that his brother was talking to workers and that it is the defense minister’s job to persuade workers to defend the country.
Ortega, nonetheless, admitted to having the 15-year accord with the Soviets and to Nicaraguan plans to give military training to 600,000 citizens.
“We have spoken of 600,000 men whom we would like to have prepared in the defense of the country. We are talking about a reserve force. We have never spoken of an army of such magnitude,” Ortega said.
The Nicaraguan armed forces are divided into permanent army and security forces, which are backed up by part-time reserves and militia. Ortega said that Nicaragua’s permanent army “does not and never will exceed 60,000 to 80,000 troops.”