Contra Police Put in Charge of North-Central Nicaragua
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The government put former Contra rebels in charge of the police in a northern region that witnessed some of the heaviest fighting during Nicaragua’s nine-year war, an official said Friday.
The unprecedented concession of power to the ex-rebels was made by the Interior Ministry - controlled by the leftist Sandinistas although they lost February’s presidential elections - after several weeks of disturbances in the area.
Interior Ministry envoy Jaime Cuadra on Thursday night ordered Sandinista Police officers in Rio Blanco, 150 miles northeast of Managua, to withdraw to the local army battalion and turn the police station over to the former Contras. The Sandinista police force consisted of about 20 men.
Cuadra also put ex-Contras in charge of the towns of Mulukuku, Waslala and the surrounding hamlets, encompassing a rural area inhabited by about 20,000 people.
He told The Associated Press the move was ″provisional, until the government makes a final decision.″
The Contra force that will take control of the police is called the Rural Police. The unit originally was authorized by the government to police areas where former Contra rebels were being resettled after laying down their arms.
Residents of Rio Blanco had held street protests for two days against the Sandinista Police over grievances that began when a former Contra rebel was killed in town.
A Sandinista Police officer suspected in the murder was arrested and sent to the provincial capital, Matagalpa, where he was promptly released.
″The authorities had given no response to complaints by the population of crimes and abuses,″ said Rio Blanco town council member Adonay Meza. ″That is why the people had public demonstrations, to demand the substitution of noxious elements in the police.″ Cuadra’s home in Matagalpa was bombed earlier this month, a few days after he returned from putting down other Contra disturbances in the northern towns of Quilali and Waslala.
The residents of the region around Rio Blanco, a mountainous area of small cattle ranches and farms, were among the strongest backers of the Contra rebels during the war.
About 20,000 Contra fighters demobilized in June after an agreement with the government of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, which defeated the Sandinistas in Feb. 25 elections and took over two months later.
The former rebels remain deeply resentful that the Sandinistas kept control of Nicaragua’s police and army, which even retain the name ″Sandinista″ and still are largely made up of Sandinista Front militants.
They also have complained that Mrs. Chamorro’s government has dragged its feet on promises to help them.
The Contras ended the war with promises they would be given farmland, food, clothing, medicine and materials with which to build simple homes in the countryside. Most of the decomissioned rebel soldiers are peasants.
Former Contras also were involved in protests last week in the remote Atlantic town of Puerto Cabezas, where they looted government warehouses to protest a lack of provisions. Sandinista police arrested 21 people.