Impromptu Peace; Army Unit Holds First Amnesty Talks With Contra Group
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ An army unit and a Contra guerrilla group drew guns when they met in northern Nicaragua but decided to hold an informal half-hour peace parley that included an exchange of cigarettes.
It was the first known talks between Sandinista army and Contra groups since the signing of a regional accord signed this month in Honduras to dismantle the Nicaraguan rebel force.
An army unit commanded by Lt. Bernardo Diaz nearly ran into the Contra group on a dirt road near the Honduran border Thursday afternoon, said photographer Ruben Farina, the only journalist present.
″Diaz shouted for everybody to hit the dirt, but at the same time he was yelling at the Contras that he did not want any shooting,″ Farina said.
″The Contras were yelling the same thing: that nobody wanted to shoot, just talk. Those were pretty tense moments.″
Eventually, after placing safety catches on weapons, Diaz and the leader of the guerrilla squad, Marlon Moreno Espinoza, apparently convinced each other of their good intentions.
″The decisive point in lowering the tension was when the Sandinista soldiers started offering cigarettes to the Contras,″ said Farina, who was working for The Associated Press.
″From there on, the two sides sort of mingled - still being careful, though - and started talking to each other in small groups.″
Rebel commander Danilo ″Wilmer″ Peralta had requested a meeting Thursday morning with a Saninista unit near Los Manchones, about 150 miles north of Managua, but his detachment failed to show up, Farina said.
The 20 government troopers then moved north. They ran into the 30 Contras several hours later at a bend of the road.
Farina said the 30-minute meeting ended with Moreno telling Diaz that he would consult with Peralta and other superiors about accepting amnesty and promising to make contact again next week.
Diaz gave the Contras copies of the accord to dismantle the Contras signed Aug. 7 in Tela, Honduras by the presidents of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
A U.N. observer group established at the behest of the Central American presidents is to oversee the dismantling and repatriation or relocation, an operation that should begin within two weeks and be completed by Dec. 5.
Most Contras - an estimated 10,000 - have been encamped in southern Honduras near the Nicaraguan border since their leaders signed a temporary cease-fire with the Nicaraguan government in March 1988. But pockets of Contras remain in northern Nicaragua and in central Chontales province staging scattered attacks.
Diaz commands the Sandinista army ″Quilali″ reserve battallion of the 311th Brigade. Moreno heads a Contra batallion also called ″Quilali.″
Quilali is the name of a town in northern Nueva Segovia province, and the meeting took place about six miles north of the town.
Farina said the Contras appeared to know little of the regional accord, which Diaz explained to them.
After Diaz distributed the copies of the accord, the Contras left, looking over their shoulders as they disappeared into the bush.
Barricada, the official newspaper of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front, on Saturday said more than 400 Contras have left their camps in Honduras and are trying to return to Nicaragua.
The daily quoted Jose Tomas Osorio Umanzor, whom it described a seven-year Contra veteran, as saying more than 400 rebels had deserted and were wandering around the border trying to enter Nicaragua.
Osorio returned to Nicaragua through the Nicaraguan border town of Las Manos, in Nueva Segovia Province, on Wednesday, according to Barricada.
The Nicaraguan Red Cross has set up border offices to receive Nicaraguans who want to return.