Contras Agree to Extend Truce, Hold New Talks
Contra leaders, retreating from threats to end a preliminary peace accord, agreed Saturday to extend their two-month-old truce with the Nicaraguan army and return here June 7 for new talks on a armistice.
The turnabout came after the Sandinista government accepted most of the Contras’ agenda for civil liberties. It offered to “assure and perfect” 10 basic guarantees in a “national dialogue” with all rebel political forces by Aug. 31, before the U.S.-backed Contras are asked to end their six-year insurgency.
Alfredo Cesar, the chief rebel negotiator, described the government offer as a “breakthrough.” But he ended three days of talks without any agreement except to prolong the preliminary peace accord signed March 23 in Sapoa, Nicaragua.
Gen. Humberto Ortega, the Sandinista defense minister, accused Enrique Bermudez, the hard-line Contra military chief, of blocking an agreement. Bermudez was taking part in the talks for the first time.
“The Reagan Administration sent Bermudez here to not to negotiate but to sabotage any agreement,” Ortega said. “If this happens next time, we will demand to talk to the Reagan Administration, that is, with the owners of the circus, not with animals like Enrique Bermudez.”
On Friday, Cesar and other rebel leaders had threatened to break off the talks, end the truce and schedule no further negotiations if there was not a full agreement by Saturday evening.
“The government has broken a barrier,” Cesar said Saturday. “It has accepted a commitment to create specific democratic conditions in order to end the war.” But he said the proposal was “incomplete, lacking in precision” and required further negotiations.
The truce, which had been due to expire Monday, went into effect with the Sapoa accord. That agreement called for follow-up negotiations to separate the two armies, allow non-lethal aid to reach the Contras and set the terms for an armistice. But two subsequent rounds of high-level talks in Managua failed to achieve any further agreements.
Last week’s third round of talks focused initially on which political demands the Contras may bring to the dialogue between government and opposition leaders. Under both rival armistice proposals, rebels would begin disarming in September, after the dialogue is due to end.
Ortega, the chief Sandinista negotiator, outlined a 10-point agenda for the dialogue at the start of talks Saturday.
The agenda includes guarantees for political pluralism, free expression, the right to strike, fair trials, free elections and the right to hold private property.
Rebel leaders say these rights, though spelled out in the Sandinistas’ Western-style 1987 constitution, are systematically violated by the government.
The Sandinista agenda adopted six of the nine items sought by the Contras. It rejected a Contra demand for election of an assembly to rewrite the constitution. It also rewrote a rebel demand to end Sandinista party control of the army and the police; the government wording said state institutions will “fully serve national interests.”
A Contra demand to end coercion of citizens to join Sandinista “mass organizations” was also modified to read that all political parties will enjoy “equal rights and opportunities.”
Under the government proposal, a national reconciliation commission made up of government, church and opposition representatives would certify to the Contras whether or not the civic guarantees as defined by the dialogue are working in practice.
‘This proposal is very important because (the Contras) have been claiming that these negotiations offer no guarantees for democracy,” Ortega said. “In our country we have a democratic process and our government is showing its willingness to strengthen and perfect it.”
Paul S. Reichler, an American legal adviser to the Sandinista negotiators, said the Contras were “taken by surprise.”
“In previous meetings they had characterized these democratic guarantees as the central point of their proposal,” he said. “When we accepted them, they were completely disoriented and quickly moved to other demands.”
Bosco Matamoros, the rebel spokesman, said the government offer “does not cover all aspects of our proposal.” He said the Contras are seeking immediate concessions, before the dialogue begins. They are demanding the release of all anti-Sandinista prisoners, an end to the military draft and the right of opposition groups to operate television stations.
The Sandinistas said they are already committed to freeing prisoners in stages established by the Sapoa accord and are willing to discuss the other demands in the dialogue.
“Today we practically had a definitive cease-fire in Nicaragua,” Ortega said. “But the wavering, cowardly elements (of the Contra negotiating team) were incapable of imposing themselves on Enrique Bermudez and seizing this magnificent opportunity.”
Bermudez survived a bitter factional battle last month in which Adolfo Calero, the senior rebel civilian leader, tried to oust him as military commander.
Sandinista officials have characterized Cesar, who supported Bermudez in that dispute, as someone they can negotiate with.