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Contras Balk at More Talks Unless They Can See Obando in Guatemala

Times Staff Writer

Conflicts over who will meet whom and where continue to block the path to a negotiated settlement between the government of Nicaragua and U.S.-backed rebels.

On Wednesday, Contra leaders in Miami said they will refuse to hold any more meetings with representatives of the Nicaraguan government unless they first can meet with Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the chief mediator in the talks, in Guatemala.

According to the rebels, Obando has been told by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega that any such meeting must be held outside Central America.

The text of a message to the cardinal from the six members of the Contra directorate said they consider themselves “at a clear disadvantage by not having been able to meet with you since the beginning of these negotiations, while Ortega meets with you any time he so wishes.”

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No More Foreigners

The directorate also repeated their insistence that in any future peace talks, the Nicaraguan government must send a Nicaraguan official to negotiate. In the first round of talks, Obando was a go-between in indirect talks. In the second round, the Sandinista government sent as its representatives Hans-Jurgen Wischnewski, a West German Parliament member, and Paul S. Reichler, a Washington lawyer.

“We will not negotiate a cease-fire with foreigners,” declared Alfonso Robelo, a member of the directorate.

A regional peace accord signed last August by five Central American presidents included a call for governments to attempt to arrange a cease-fire with armed insurgents in the region. The Central American presidents will meet Jan. 15 to evaluate progress toward peace. Contra leaders said Wednesday that, if there is no significant move toward a settlement by that date, the effort should be abandoned.

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“The agreement will be dead,” said Alfredo Cesar, another directorate member.

Agreed on More Talks

On Tuesday, Ortega and Obando met at Obando’s office in Managua for more than an hour and agreed that a third round of cease-fire talks should be held before Jan. 15 to establish conditions for a cease-fire.

Obando said afterward that for now, he will ask the Contras to accept another round of talks on the Sandinistas’ terms--the use of the two foreigners and a venue outside of the five nations that signed the peace accord. But he said he will insist that for future rounds, the Sandinistas include a Nicaraguan among their negotiators and that the talks be held in Central America.

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“If we hold a new meeting, I think it could open the way to having a Nicaraguan represent the government and perhaps to move the meetings to Central America,” Obando said.

The cardinal indicated that he would accept Ortega’s proposed sites, Panama or Belize.

Ready to Hear Proposals

Ortega, meeting separately with reporters, said his government is willing to hear any new proposal the cardinal wants to make at the next meeting on the mechanics of a cease-fire.

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“The important thing is to keep advancing,” he said. “The United States government is trying to sabotage the talks by adding new conditions. It doesn’t want any progress by the Jan. 15 meeting. If there is no progress by then, President Reagan will have a basis for seeking more funds (from Congress) for the war against Nicaragua.”

“Our challenge is to keep working so we can achieve some results,” Ortega added. “And if there are no results, then it will be clear that the United States is to blame.”

Comments by both Obando and Ortega implied that they, unlike the Contras, believe that cease-fire talks should continue beyond Jan. 15.

Symbolic Issues

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The disagreement over selecting participants and locales for the peace talks is largely a matter of symbolism.

For example, the Marxist-led Sandinista government demands that talks be held outside of Central America because it considers the rebels no more than instruments of the U.S. government and not a home-grown rebellion. The Sandinistas have long refused to speak directly to the insurgents, hence their attempt to use foreign negotiators at the peace table.

The Contras, for their part, are hungry for recognition. They insist on talking to the Sandinistas directly and preferably in Central America in order to show that they represent a true Central American cause.

The effort to get Obando to Guatemala appears to be part of that effort.

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“Why should we let Daniel Ortega dictate where we can go?” asked Robelo.

It is not clear whether Obando, who is trying to maintain neutrality in the conflict, is willing to meet the Contras in Guatemala.

Times staff writer Richard Boudreaux, in Managua, also contributed to this article.


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