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URGENT Sandinistas, Contras Near Agreement On Truce In Nicaraguan War

March 23, 1988

SAPOA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Nicaragua’s defense minister, Gen. Humberto Ortega, said at the end of a second day of peace talks between Sandinista and Contra rebel negotiators that he expected a ″concrete agreement″ on Wednesday.

He declined to elaborate, telling a news conference, ″Obviously we aren’t able to go into details.″

Earlier Tuesday both sides said they had exchanged proposals, which agree on major points, for an extended cease-fire accompanied by amnesty and release of political prisoners.

Contra leader Adolfo Calero told reporters, ″We worked hard during the day. We clarified (points that coincide) and we are working on differences.″

″It was a fruitful day and tomorrow could be even better.″

Calero described the second round of talks as ″direct and frank.″

The two sides began three days of meetings Monday at this town on the Costa Rican border, trying to end a civil war that President Daniel Ortega says has cost 26,500 lives since 1981. Both sides suspended battlefield action during the talks.

The Sandinista delegation proposed a 30-day truce that could be extended to three months, during which the U.S.-supported Contras would lay down their weapons and join a ″national reconciliation dialogue.″

Victor Hugo Tinoco, the deputy foreign minister, announced the proposal at a news conference. For every rebel who stops fighting, he said, the leftist government will free one of the 3,300 political prisoners it considers eligible for release.

Most prisoners are former members of the National Guard, as the army was called under the late President Anastasio Somoza, whom the Sandinista revolution overthrew in July 1979.

Contrary to previous Sandinista demands, Tinoco said rebels who put down their arms would be free from prosecution without applying for amnesty and could take party in Nicaraguan political life.

They would be permitted to operate uncensored newspapers, magazines and radio stations, but television would remain a government monopoly.

Contra proposals, as outlined to reporters by spokesman Bosco Matamoros, call for a 45-day truce beginning on Good Friday, April 1. Rebel fighters would move to cease-fire zones and a permanent truce would be negotiated by Sandinista and Contra leaders.

Matamoros said the Contras demand ″total and unconditional amnesty″ when the cease-fire begins, so anyone who had left Nicaragua for political reasons could ″rejoin the political, economic and social process without any conditions.″

Contra leaders also want to join a national dialogue between the Sandinistas and their internal political opponents.

An agreement signed Monday night by President Ortega, the defense minister’s brother, and leaders of eight opposition political parties has a significant effect on that Contra demand.

It says the parties pledge to discuss ″internal political issues exclusively with the government″ and the ″government will discuss exclusively with rebel groups″ all matters involving a cease-fire.

According to Matamoros, other Contra demands include immediate, total amnesty, freedom for all political prisoners and an end to mandatory military service.

Tinoco said: ″At the moment at which a cease-fire is signed, whether it be for 30, 60 or 90 days, according to what the counterrevolution wants, at that moment the leadership of the Nicaraguan Resistance (Contras) will be able to rejoin civic and political life and even participate in the national dialogue that seeks a reconciliation of all Nicaraguans.″

Both sides propose international monitoring of the cease-fire. The Sandinistas would have a 15-member international commission including representatives of the United Nations, Organization of American States, Contadora and its support group.

Contadora is made up of Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia and Panama, and began trying to negotiate peace in Central America several years ago. The support group is Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Peru.

The battlefield truce appeared on Tuesday to be holding. It was the first agreed suspension of fighting since truce for Christmas and New Year’s during which some fighting was reported.

Alfredo Cesar, a former Sandinista who leads the Contra delegation, called the exchange of proposals ″a step ahead.″ On Monday night, he told reporters: ″Neither side seeks a military victory over the other.″

Both cease-fire and reconciliation talks are required under the peace plan signed Aug. 7 by the five Central American presidents. It also calls for greater democracy in the region and an end to both foreign aid to insurgents and the use of one country’s territory for attacks on another.

Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic primate, is attending the talks as one of two observers.

He acted as mediator in four previous cease-fire conferences in which the sides did not meet face-to-face. They were held outside Nicaragua and ended without agreement.

The other observer is Joao Baena Soarez, general secretary of the Organization of American States.

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