Relatives of Draftees Take Over Red Cross Office
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ More than 1,000 people occupied a Red Cross office in a provincial town to demand changes in conscription policy after soldiers dumped the body of a draftee at his house, Red Cross and church spokesmen said.
They said the protest, which began Friday and continued today in Boaco, 56 miles northeast of Managua, originated with a demand for an explanation of the soldier’s death.
After authorities said he was accidentally shot by another draftee, the protesters demanded that conscripts from the town be kept closer to home.
Relatives first filled the street outside the Red Cross office to press their demand for information from authorities, then occupied the building, Adolfo Beteta, spokesman for the Nicaraguan Red Cross, said by telephone from the town.
″The relatives of the recruits continue to be determined that they not be taken to war zones and they are not moving from here,″ Beteta said late Friday.
Service in the military reserves is required for men from 22 to 40 years of age. The men train for two months and are sent home. If needed for active duty, they serve two years.
According to Beteta, authorities said the deceased draftee, Salvador Fernandez, 40, was killed by a stray gunshot from another conscript during training. He was one of 400 men from the town of 15,000 who were drafted into the reserves Thursday by the army and taken to a training camp 37 miles northeast of Boaco.
Monsignor Rafael Obregon, the Boaco parish priest, said the protesters also complained the draftees were taken away at 5 a.m. Thursday instead of 8 a.m. as scheduled, leaving no time to say goodbye to family and relatives.
While Boaca is in what is considered a war zone, there is no combat in the immediate area. However, U.S.-backed Contra rebels make sporadic attacks in mountainous, forested area where the training area is located.
″The version of the military authorities is that the man died accidentally, but he had a gunshot wound in the forehead,″ Obregon said.
Obregon said Fernandez’ wife, Silvia Sanchez Espinoza, told him she was not at home when army personnel brought the body and left it at her door.
″We do not trust the version of the authorities that the death of the recruit was accidental,″ Aleydac Campos, wife of one of the draftees, said by telephone.
″We are going to continue waiting here at the Red Cross for an answer from authorities so that our men are taken to other military bases closer to the city where they are not in danger, since they do not even have military training,″ she said.
There were no serious incidents during the protest, Obregon said.
He said the regional representative of the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front, Jorge Abarca, tried unsuccessfully late Friday to convince the relatives that they were prohibited under emergency legislation from demonstrating.
Nicaragua has an estimated 100,000 people under arms, including the army, reserves and militia.
While many Nicaraguans object to the compulsory military service, there have been few open protests. Two years ago, mothers of young draftees demonstrated in Granada and other cities and in some cases tried to take their sons off the trucks.