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Nicaragua Lifts Ban on News on Catholic Station

Times Staff Writer

The government on Wednesday lifted an eight-month-old ban on news broadcasts by Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic radio station, the only news medium still affected by last year’s sweeping Sandinista crackdown on dissent.

President Daniel Ortega announced the measure after meeting with Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the country’s senior prelate. Ortega said it is meant to “create a better climate in our country for strengthening the trend toward a total and definitive peace” with the U.S.-backed Contras.

He also authorized the return of 10 foreign priests who were expelled from Nicaragua in recent years and the reopening of the Catholic Social Promotion Commission, which was closed in 1985 for publishing a bulletin of news and political commentary without government permission.

U.S. Intentions a Concern

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The moves to ease censorship come as the Bush Administration is preparing to ask Congress for at least $45 million in non-military aid to keep the rebel army together in Honduran base camps for another year. Ortega said Wednesday that he is “concerned” about the Administration’s intentions because they “go against” a peace agreement signed by the five Central American presidents last month.

Under the accord, the countries of the region are to devise a plan by mid-May to close the rebel camps in Honduras, and Nicaragua is to take steps to guarantee open and fair elections by next February.

Government officials said Ortega is preparing a proposal for reforming the laws that regulate elections and the news media and will unveil them to opposition parties Friday.

Opposition leaders have demanded that the government abolish its censorship powers. After peace talks with the Contras broke down last June, the government used those powers in a wide-ranging crackdown.

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Catholic Radio was ordered off the air July 11 for its on-the-scene reporting of a violent clash between riot police and anti-Sandinista demonstrators. It was allowed back on the air five weeks later, but only for religious programming.

Alberto Carballo, general manager of the station, said it will resume news broadcasts Monday.

Cardinal Obando, an outspoken critic of Sandinista rule, said after meeting Ortega that he is “pleased that rough spots between the church and state are being smoothed out.” But he refused to join Ortega in opposing further non-lethal U.S. aid to the Contras.

Noting that the rebel army has been mostly idled in its camps since the suspension of U.S. military aid a year ago, Obando said: “I told the president that if he keeps taking steps toward democratization, any new aid to the Contras will oblige them to stay in Honduras playing volleyball and baseball.”


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