Indian guerrilla leaders, opening their first peace talks in three years Tuesday, rejected a Nicaraguan government demand that they publicly oppose further U.S. aid to the Contras.
The dispute surfaced as Interior Minister Tomas Borge met with a Miskito Indian group led by Brooklyn Rivera, who has broken with the Contra movement to negotiate on Indian rights.
Armstrong Wiggins, an aide to Rivera, said Indian negotiators were stunned by Borge's opening position. He said Borge wanted to block a promised visit by Rivera's group, which returned from exile last Saturday, to their Atlantic coastal homeland unless they urged the U.S. Congress to vote against new aid to the Contras.
Borge, whose ministry runs the coastal region, later yielded and authorized a weekend visit by the group to the seaside towns of Puerto Cabezas and Bluefields.
The minister did not comment publicly on the opening session. But he appeared determined to take a hard line in the talks while using the Indians' visit to sway the vote set for next week on a Reagan Administration request for about $36 million in Contra aid.
"We did not come here to be used like this," Wiggins said during a recess in the talks at the Moravian Church. "We came to speak with our people so we can negotiate in their interest. Then if we see that the government is serious about Indian rights, we might take a position on what the Congress should do."
Rivera's eight-member negotiating team, claiming to speak for 2,400 guerrillas and 30,000 exiles, returned to Nicaragua from Costa Rica after President Daniel Ortega invited them to visit the coast and resume, without prior conditions, the peace talks they broke off in 1985.
But since their return, Indian negotiators say, Borge has tried to impose conditions on their stay. First he insisted that they go straight to his ministry headquarters for a courtesy visit.
When Rivera refused, security agents kept his group at the Managua airport for three hours. Borge relented and moved the site of the courtesy call to a protocol office after Rivera threatened to leave Nicaragua on the next plane out.
Then, Monday night, Borge sent word that four Indian rights activists from the United States who are advising Rivera's group should leave Nicaragua. Under a compromise reached Tuesday, two of the advisers will stay.
They are Glenn Morris, a Denver University law professor and Jim Anaya, a representative of U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, (D-Mass.). The two who agreed, under protest, to leave are Steven Tullberg, an attorney for the Indian Law Resource Center in Washington, and Bernard Nietschmann, a geography professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
CIA Overtures Resisted
The Miskitos began fighting the Sandinista government in 1981 and became loosely tied to the Contra movement launched that year in western Nicaragua. Indian rebels have received a small share of U.S. Contra aid allotments but resisted CIA overtures to join the Nicaraguan Resistance, as the Contra coalition is now known.
In turn, Rivera has broken with other Indian rebel leaders, who are against holding their own peace talks now.
Rivera has always emphasized Indian rights over the Contra goal of ousting the Sandinistas. He seeks local self-rule and collective ownership of the coastal region's natural resources for Miskitos and four other indigenous minorities.
The Miskito leader got a warm welcome from a multi-ethnic congregation of 200 coastal natives at the Moravian Church service here Sunday. Norman Bent, the Moravian pastor, called Rivera's homecoming "a cause for great celebration" and led a prayer for the success of peace talks, which the church is mediating.