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Army Withdrawing From Neutral Zones, Strikes Continue

April 22, 1990

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Sandinista army troops began clearing out of five neutral zones Saturday, making way for Contra rebels who have promised to disarm.

U.N. observers were moving into the five security zones to monitor the military withdrawal and the rebel demobilization.

Also Saturday, the 14-party coalition of President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro elected conservative Miriam Arguello as the head of the new National Assembly.

Ms. Arguello, a 63-year-old lawyer who had been jailed by the Sandinistas after a 1988 opposition political rally.

She defeated Alfredo Cesar, a close Chamorro adviser, in a 28-23 vote by deputies from Mrs. Chamorro’s 14-party coalition, the United National Opposition. The election was seen a defeat to Mrs. Chamorro.

Earlier, outgoing President Daniel Ortega bade farewell to the old Sandinista-dominated assembly, saying the Sandinistas will put the interests of the nation above those of the party.

Voters weary of war and poverty put an end to more than a decade of rule by the leftist Sandinistas in the Feb. 25 general elections. Mrs. Chamorro’s victory paved the way for the cease-fire and demobilization accord.

The Defense Ministry claimed the Contras had violated the cease-fire by hijacking a truck in a remote mining region Thursday but said Sandinista troops were withdrawing anyway.

″The Sandinista army has begun retiring from the security zones to allow the members of the resistance to enter them,″ a ministry spokesman, Capt. Carlos Lara, said Saturday.

The withdrawal operation was launched Thursday, the day a permanent cease- fire in Nicaragua’s 9-year-old civil war began, he said.

The peace accord calls for the Contras to begin disarming April 25, the day conservative President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro takes office. The deadline for total demobilization is June 10.

The bulk of the rebel army, estimated at between 9,000 and 12,000 fighters, has returned to Nicaragua from Honduran base camps in the past few months.

Scattered strikes by Sandinista workers continued Saturday despite public appeals by Ortega and lame-duck Interior Minister Tomas Borge to end the walkouts.

Labor leaders say they are conducting a two-pronged campaign aimed at pressuring the Contras into fulfilling their promise to disarm and at winning wage concessions from the new government.

Bank workers, who walked out Friday, were expected to return to work Monday, the Sandinista party newspaper Barricada said, while telephone workers remained out.

The pro-Sandinista media also reported strikes by miners on the Atlantic Coast, teachers in some provinces, Ministry of Construction and Transport workers and a variety of other government workers.

Despite the skepticism of the Sandinista rank-and-file, party officials seemed confident the demobilization would go according to schedule.

The chief spokesman for the Defense Ministry, Lt. Col. Rosa Pasos, said that the ministry had ″abundant information that the Contras are heading for the security zones, ready to demobilize.″

The first U.N. peacekeeping troops were to arrive Sunday in Nicaragua from Honduras, where they oversaw the demobilization of the small contingent of Contras who remained in Honduras after the elections.

The troops, all Venezuelan soldiers, were scheduled to deploy in the northernmost of the five security zones on Monday, said U.N. spokeswoman Angelica Hunt.

A total of 700 peacekeepers will be deployed by next Saturday, said Ms. Hunt, who spoke in a telephone interview from Honduras.

The return to Nicaragua of thousands of armed guerrillas had provoked a crisis that threatened the peaceful transfer of power to Mrs. Chamorro, who is favored by Washington.

The Sandinistas finally gave up on their demand that the Contras disarm by inauguration day and the Contras backed off their demand for the army to demobilize.

The Sandinistas came to power in the July 1979 popular uprising that toppled the rightist government of Anastasio Somoza and ended 40 years of pro- U.S., Somoza family rule.

Update hourly