In the first face-to-face talks between Nicaraguan Contras and Sandinista officials today, the rebels will continue to insist on sweeping political reforms as a condition for a cease-fire.
The truce proposal, which the Contras circulated late Wednesday, calls for placing U.S. military aid in escrow for 30 days while the Nicaraguan government holds talks on constitutional reforms with the Contras and the civic opposition. By the end of the 30-day period, the proposal states, a cease-fire would begin simultaneously with implementation of reforms limiting the Sandinistas' power.
The proposal varies little in substance from the offer the Contras took to the Dominican Republic for indirect cease-fire talks last month--and thus suggests there will be little progress toward an immediate cease-fire in the six-year war.
The Sandinistas say the talks must focus on the technical aspects of a cease-fire. They have rejected tripartite talks, arguing that under the Central American peace plan, they are required to negotiate a cease-fire with the rebels and political reforms with an unarmed opposition.
"We think that the political dialogue will continue in Nicaragua," said Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Victor Hugo Tinoco, head of the Sandinista cease-fire commission. "What the Contras have to do is to accelerate the cease-fire, to incorporate, to reinsert themselves into civilian life to be able to participate in the political dialogue."
He said the government will bring an expanded cease-fire proposal to the meeting today, but he would not reveal details.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for the regional plan, warned that the two negotiating teams are not likely to reach agreements in the first meeting.
"You can't achieve much in a meeting of a few hours," Arias said.
Drawing on his experience from recent meetings of the five Central American presidents, he added: "The first few hours are very hard because they are used in recriminations and long speeches. It is only after many hours that you begin to look for points of agreement."
He urged the two commissions to meet for two or three days so that, "in the end, out of fatigue or boredom, it is possible to reach agreements."
Contra spokesman Bosco Matamoros said the rebel proposal "is a global approach. It addresses the roots of the conflict."
The rebels are basing their political demands on a list of 17 constitutional reforms proposed by 14 opposition parties that would separate the Sandinista Party from the army and government institutions, weaken presidential power, prohibit presidential reelection and guarantee private property.
Contra Aid Request Hit
Arias also criticized President Reagan's request Wednesday for $36.25 million in aid for the Contras. The aid package, 10% of which would be for weapons, is far less than the $270 million the Administration originally had planned to seek.
He made his comments to reporters after a 90-minute meeting with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Morris Busby. Busby reportedly came to Costa Rica to ask Arias not to campaign against the aid vote, scheduled for Wednesday, in the House of Representatives.
The Sandinistas and the Contras are expected to try to use the cease-fire talks to influence the outcome of the aid vote.
Contra officials argue that continued aid is necessary to keep military pressure on the Sandinistas and force them to make political concessions. The Sandinistas say further aid will kill the peace process.
Under the rebel proposal, during a cease-fire the two sides would arrange to disarm both the Contras and the government army and form a new, integrated national army. The Sandinistas would expel foreign military advisers, end compulsory military service and abolish the militia. All reforms would take full effect by the end of the cease-fire.
The talks are to be held at a Roman Catholic seminary and will be mediated by two bishops from Nicaragua.