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Nicaraguan rebels surrender their weapons

July 22, 1997

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ In a remote mountain region in northern Nicaragua, 387 rebels have surrendered their weapons to President Arnoldo Aleman.

They were believed to be the last of the former Contra rebels who had rearmed in mid-1990 to once again put down their guns.

After a brief surrender seven years ago, many Contra rebels rearmed to protest what they claimed was the failure by then-President Violeta Chamorro to adequately help them return to civilian life. Aleman, who took office in January, promised to provide the land and financial help they demanded.

Aleman has been trying to get different groups _ including the leftist Sandinistas _ to discuss differences and grievances at the conference table. The Sandinistas have refused. They have staged months of violent demonstrations against Aleman’s fiscal policies, including a plan to sell off state enterprises nationalized by the Sandinistas.

But the remnants of Northern Front 380, or FN-380 as the group called itself, took up the president’s offer. On Monday, they turned their weapons over in the village of Ayapal, 225 miles north of Managua.

``Here are our weapons,″ Bernardo Martinez Rojas, one of the rebel leaders who called himself Commander Zapoyol, told Aleman. ``Today, we are going to disarm ... because we consider this part of a history which must not be repeated.″

The weapons were dismantled on the spot.

No one really knows how many _ if any _ so-called ``rearmed Contras″ remain in the jungle-covered mountains of northern Nicaragua. But Aleman emphatically warned they would have until the end of July to disarm or, ``be immediately pursued as (common) criminals.″

To those who surrendered Monday, Aleman promised: ``We will support you so that you can return to civilian life, so that you take up the plough and man the tractor.″

The Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua from 1979, when they overthrew rightist dictator Gen. Anastasio Somoza, until 1990. They were displaced by Mrs. Chamorro in elections that she won by a landslide.

An estimated 8,000 Contra rebels supported by the United States, fought the Sandinistas in a decade-long civil war that left at least 70,000 dead.

Shortly before she took office, Mrs. Chamorro successfully induced both sides to disarm, promising to give them land and provide easy credit.

But the war left Nicaragua’s economy in a shambles. A sizable number of Contras rearmed months later and terrorized the northern countryside with sporadic attacks.

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