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Contras Agree to Speed Up Disarmament

Times Staff Writer

Contra leaders agreed Wednesday to speed up the stalled process of disarming their forces in return for a government-aided relocation plan allowing former guerrillas to police their new communities.

It was the third accord in six weeks committing the Nicaraguan rebels, who are gathered in seven cease-fire zones, to hand their weapons to U.N. peacekeeping troops by June 10. After each previous pact, the rebels have slowed their demobilization and won new concessions, leaving about 13,000 rebels still to be disarmed.

“Today our friends in the Resistance have promised to comply with all the agreements they have made earlier for June 10,” President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro told reporters after all-night talks with Contra military leader Israel Galeano and Gen. Humberto Ortega, commander of the Sandinista-led army that fought the U.S.-backed rebels for eight years.

Asked why she believed the rebels’ promise this time, the president said: “One must have enormous faith.”

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Chamorro’s latest concessions will give a degree of autonomy to the rural resettlement colonies that the rebels had won in a previous agreement. The first colonies are to be built in the sparsely-settled southeastern corner of Nicaragua, with the government providing roads, housing materials, schools, health clinics and farm tools for former rebels and their families.

At the rebels’ insistence, the new colonies will be self-governing and policed by former rebel combatants. The new policemen are to be trained by U.N. troops and accountable to the Ministry of Government in Managua, which oversees the national police force.

The policing arrangement was crucial to Contra leaders, who claimed that disarmed rebels faced the threat of reprisals by members of the army and national police. Both are still led by officers of the Sandinista revolutionary movement that lost the Feb. 25 election to Chamorro’s center-right coalition.

Since the disarmament process began May 8, just 1,984 rebels have returned as civilians to their home towns and villages, U.N. officials said.

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The talks that produced Wednesday’s agreement started last week but were broken off Friday in a bizarre sequence of events. Rebel negotiators charged that 14 disarmed rebels on their way home in northern Nicaragua had died in a Sandinista ambush.

But when a team of investigators from the government, the Roman Catholic Church, the United Nations and Organization of American States flew to the site, they found no evidence of the alleged massacre.

Before the investigators returned to Managua, the Contra negotiators tried to leave town but were sequestered in their hotel by the police and staged a brief hunger strike. The talks resumed Tuesday.

The rebel leaders’ behavior appears to reflect concern over the prospect of losing their power. While many rebels say they want to go home, Galeano has pressed for the new colonies as a way of keeping his men together as a civilian organization. Until the U.S. Congress approved a $300 million aid package for Nicaragua last week, the government was unable to go beyond its vague promises to set up such colonies.

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