2-Day Nicaragua Truce Starts; Clashes Reported
A two-day Christmas truce took effect Thursday, the first agreed cease-fire in the six-year-old Nicaraguan conflict, amid unconfirmed reports of scattered clashes in remote areas of the country.
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Nicaragua, had suggested the truce, and the Sandinista government and the U.S.-backed Contras agreed to begin it at midnight Wednesday.
Both sides said they would hold their fire unless attacked but both also warned that they were on the alert against any surprise attack.
A spokesman for the Nicaraguan Defense Ministry here and a Contra spokesman in neighboring Honduras said late Thursday afternoon that they had no reports of a single shot being fired.
But members of a cattle cooperative in central Nicaragua said Contras attacked it early Thursday morning.
Report Assault Repelled
Members of the Villa Sandino cooperative, 127 miles east of Managua in Chontales province, said the rebel force attacked at 3:25 a.m. and that about 20 armed members of the cooperative repelled the assault.
Fighting also was reported Thursday afternoon along the strategic Rama Road in eastern Nicaragua, where much of the war materiel from the Soviet Union and Cuba is transported to the capital.
The government radio station Radio Revolution in Juigalpa, the capital of Chontales province, quoted sources in the Defense Ministry as saying three rebels were killed and two others injured in the fighting on the Rama Road.
In Washington, Bosco Matamoros, a spokesman for the Nicaraguan Resistance, denied that the rebels had broken the truce.
“We have not conducted any operations. We are respecting rigorously the truce called by Cardinal Obando,” he said. “We are conducting only defensive operations.”
He said the cattle cooperatives are traditionally supply centers used by the Sandinistas and said reports of a Contra attack were propaganda by the Sandinistas.
Breakdown of Talks
Even before the start of the truce, the Sandinista government and the rebels remained bitter over the breakdown of talks to work out a lasting peace.
Cardinal Obando, mediator in indirect peace talks aimed at achieving a permanent cease-fire called for in a regional peace plan, returned here Wednesday night after the second round of talks ended in impasse in the Dominican Republic.
“If the political will falls and the sincerity doesn’t shine, Nicaraguans are going to continue dying,” the cardinal said, appearing disappointed. He said talks would resume in January.
Meanwhile, the casualty toll for both Sandinista troops and the rebels rose from heavy combat earlier this week in the mining region of isolated northeastern Nicaragua.
Maj. Ramon Ernesto Soza, military chief of the region, told reporters who were ferried to the zone Wednesday that 205 people had died in house-to-house fighting in three small mining towns--137 Contras, 49 Sandinista troops and 19 civilians. He said the wounded included 66 soldiers, 66 rebels and 93 civilians.
The rebels claimed to have killed 170 soldiers but did not reveal their own casualties.
3 Towns Were Attacked
The Contras staged three simultaneous predawn attacks Sunday on the economically important mining villages of Siuna, Rosita and Bonanza. The offensive was billed by the rebels as their largest and most successful in the war.
Klaus Welver, a German doctor at the hospital in Siuna, about 160 miles northeast of Managua, said he treated 110 people, most of whom were wounded in a Contra mortar attack on the town of 7,000 people early Sunday.
Welver said about 70% of those wounded in the attacks were civilians, and they numbered more than 200.
The conflicting casualty figures could not be independently checked.
Journalists visiting Siuna on Wednesday found few signs of Sunday’s battle. An unexploded bomb was lodged in the hillside across from the airstrip, apparently left from a Sandinista attempt to drive the Contras out.
Airstrip Seemed Intact
The airstrip appeared untouched as did many of the town’s buildings. As the Contras left, they said they would return to Siuna.
The Sandinistas said that 1,000 Contras took part in the attacks. The rebels said 3,000 troops backed by 4,000 supporting guerrillas raided the villages.
Residents of Siuna said the fighting began around dawn Sunday morning with a Contra mortar attack that lasted about two hours, damaging a radar installation and two army warehouses filled with arms and ammunition.