Angry Former Contras Turn on Old Leaders
WIWILI, Nicaragua (AP) _ The jungles of northern Nicaragua, where the Miskito Indians live, used to be Contra country. Things have changed.
A man slipped up to reporters at a government rally and delivered a simple, clear message: ″Tell Franklyn that if he shows his face around here, we will chop his head off.″
Commander Franklyn was a leader of the U.S.-sponsored Contra war, which the man at the rally and other Miskitos had supported, and now is a government bureaucrat in Managua. Many who fought with the anti-Sandinista rebels feel sold out and are turning on the men they once followed.
The rally celebrated President Violeta Chamorro’s first year in power and provided a hint of the trouble brewing in the jungles and mountains around Wiwili.
Officials in Managua acknowledge some Contras are rearming, but those in the rugged, isolated north say the numbers are greater than the central government admits.
The Coco River runs through Wiwili, which is in both Jinotega and Nueva Segovia provinces. The area was Contra turf in the 1980s and now is home to the ″re-Contras,″ renegades who have taken up arms again.
Mrs. Chamorro persuaded the Contras to demobilize when she took power, but her government has not met its pledges of land and other aid for the rebels.
While 20,000 Contras laid down their arms after the nine-year civil war, their old enemies - the Sandinista People’s Army and the Sandinista police - still exist.
Some Miskitos who fought with the Contras say Commander Franklyn, the nom de guerre of their leader Israel Galeano, has sold out to the government instead of helping his former comrades.
Franklyn, who heads the Department of Inter-Institutional Coordination in Managua, says he is powerless to make the government deliver on promises of aid.
″Today I run a risk not only from the (Sandinista) Front, but from my very own comrades,″ he said in an interview. ″I cannot continue giving my people only words.
″The government has forgotten that the mountain is silent, but when it explodes, nobody can shut it up.″
According to official figures, 209,470 acres of farmland have been distributed to 9,300 demobilized rebels, leaving 10,700 former Contras without land. Not all may it, but most Contras were from the countryside.
Franklyn said the government had not even responded to his request for the return of his own coffee farms and cattle ranches, which the Sandinistas confiscated in 1981. The government, strapped for cash and fending off militant Sandinista labor unions, says it is doing what it can.
Knowledgeable sources say the number of re-Contras is far higher than the 200 cited by Mrs. Chamorro’s government and they use weapons buried at the time of demobilization.
″They have been digging up weapons - FALs, AK-47s, RPGs - and we have information they have recovered anti-tank mines,″ said 1st Lt. Julio Mejia Torres, the Sandinista police chief of Wiwili.
Mejia works with 20 members of the Rural Police, a nationwide force of former rebels the government formed last year in the knowledge that Contras probably would not obey Sandinista police.
He and Rural Police officer Aristides Duarte, 23, patrolled the riverbank rally held in April.
″This was one of the strongest zones for the demobilized combatants; that’s why they sent us here,″ said Duarte, who was a Contra for seven years.
″There are some people (re-Contras) who don’t understand that everyone is tired of war. We’ve been talking to them. They want land.″
Late in April, the government sent hundreds of soldiers into Jinotega, purportedly to open access roads to remote farm areas and clear mines left over from the war.
Some people see this as a signal to re-Contras that they are outlaws and will be dealt with accordingly.
″You don’t need heavy artillery to build roads or clear mines,″ said an official from an international organization involved with the return of Contras to civilian life.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said about 800 soldiers had been sent as reinforcements to military bases north of Jinotega’s provincial capital, which has the same name as the province.
″We have been deeply worried that this pacification we have been building for more than a year will unravel quickly,″ the official said. ″That the war will start again.″
Mayor Noel Gadea of Jinotega, who is pro-government, said: ″That’s how guerrillas start. First you have small groups of rebels being helped by peasants. Then the army comes in and punishes the peasants for helping. More people join the rebels.
″Suddenly you have ... a full-blown insurgency.″
One of Gadea’s problems is Tigrillo, a Contra commander holed up in the mountains outside the city, which were his base during the war. He is said to command 200 re-Contras.
Around Wiwili, re-Contra commanders called The Wolf, Piranha, The Beast, Tapada and Isaac lead squads of renegades, said Mejia, the police chief Mejia.
He estimated the number of re-Contras in his zone also numbered 200.
About 1,000 peasants and townsfolk gathered for the midday rally in April. Most avoided Mejia.
The man who threatened Franklyn watched from a distance, dressed in muddy combat boots and ragged civlian clothes, until Mejia and Duarte moved away after talking to reporters. He disappeared into the crowd afrer speaking.
Mario Pravia Martinez, 26, a former Contra who knew him, said: ″There’s a lot of us who feel that way. Planting starts soon and I don’t have a yard of land to till.″
″All we know is that we have been forgotten. While Franklyn has a nice job in Managua, his comrades are going hungry here.″