A 20-member congressional group named by President Bush to observe this month's elections in Nicaragua has been disbanded after members were denied visas by the leftist Managua government, Sen. Richard G. Lugar said Wednesday.
Lugar, an Indiana Republican, said President Bush concurs that there is no chance for the group to serve its intended function of determining whether the Feb. 25 balloting is free and fair.
"The Nicaraguan government has remained intransigent in arbitrarily choosing those it wished to observe the election and making a point of hostility to any official U.S. observers," Lugar said.
The White House said in a statement that it is "disappointed that Sandinista stone-walling has brought this about." The visa refusals and other actions "bring into question the Sandinista commitment (to free elections)," it said.
At the same time, former President Jimmy Carter, who heads a separate observer group, briefed members of the House and Senate on his trips to Nicaragua and gave a largely optimistic report about chances for fair elections.
"He feels pretty good about it," said Lugar, who attended one of the briefings.
In Managua, the Sandinista-dominated National Assembly gave formal approval to amnesty for more than 1,000 political prisoners, pre-empting a key opposition pledge less than three weeks before the elections.
President Daniel Ortega, seeking another six-year term, made the amnesty proposal last week, and the National Assembly rubber-stamped it Wednesday with a 76-4 vote.
The amnesty covers 1,189 people, most of them accused of taking part in the U.S.-backed Contra insurgency.