Sandinista Chief Offers to Take Action Against Former Rebels
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ The Sandinista defense chief offered Thursday to clear out Contra rebels who have blocked access to much of eastern Nicaragua in ″practically a coup″ against President Violeta Chamorro’s government.
Gen. Humberto Ortega said the army and police were awaiting Mrs. Chamorro’s go-ahead to free the strategic Rama road, the sole overland connection between a large chunk of eastern Nicaragua and the rest of the country.
For the past week rebels have blocked the east-west road between Juigalpa, about 85 miles southeast of Managua, to Rama, another 90 miles east. A reporter who checked three of the 14 roadblocks on Tuesday saw no one armed, but Ortega said he had reports of weapons trafficking on the road.
The rebels also control Bluefields, an Atlantic Coast town 35 miles east of Rama, said AP photographer Ruben Farina, who visited the city of about 35,000. He said there was no fighting there.
Mrs. Chamorro called for a meeting in Managua with 14 mayors from southeastern Nicaraguan who support the blockade. The mayors are all members of the coalition that elected her last February, ending the 10-year Sandinista government.
The mayors and the demobilized rebels claim Mrs. Chamorro has not fulfilled promises of aid and has left the Sandinistas with too much power. They are demanding the firing of Defense Minister Ortega; Antonio Lacayo, the presidential chief of staff; Interior Minister Carlos Hurtado; and the chiefs of the Sandinista Police and Sandinista People’s Army.
The Sandinistas still control security forces under an accord reached with Mrs. Chamorro after the Feb. 25 elections, although Ortega officially resigned from the Sandinista party as part of the agreements. Conservatives dislike Lacayo because they claim he has negotiated away too much power to the Sandinistas.
Ortega urged the rebels to abandon their blockade and said he hoped force would not have to be used.
″Those who have been provoking the climate of ... boycotts, chaos ... are not political parties or labor unions, but mayors ... with demands of a change of government, practically a coup d’etat,″ he said at a news conference.
Monsignor Pablo Antonio Vega, the conservative bishop of Juigalpa and a supporter of the blockade, said the 14 mayors were considering whether to heed the president’s call for talks.
Southeastern Nicaragua was an area of support for the Contra rebels during their war against the leftist Sandinista government.
The current blockade has isolated a rich agricultural region and is causing heavy losses for ranchers and farmers.
Ortega also announced the retirement of 5,000 officers from the armed forces by the first of the year. He said that would shrink Nicaragua’s armed forces to 28,000 members, making it the fourth largest in Central America. It once was the largest in the region, with about 100,000 people under arms.
Central American governments have agreed to reduce their armies, which eat up scarce resources, are frequently accused of committing rights abuses and tend to be unaccountable to the civilian governments they are supposed to defend.