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Contra Commanders Say They Won’t Disarm

May 20, 1990

EL ALMENDRO, Nicaragua (AP) _ Contra commanders confirmed they have suspended disarmament and said they won’t order their troops to put down their weapons unless their safety can be guaranteed.

A Contra representative had said Saturday the rebels would continue disarming under terms of an agreement with the government.

However, the No. 2 Contra commander said late that day the group had ordered its forces to keep their weapons.

″Demobilized fighters are not getting the treatment they deserve,″ said Oscar Sovalbarro, the second-ranking Contra commander, in an interview with The Associated Press.

Sovalbarro, known as ″Commander Ruben,″ said demobilized Contras were being harassed by Sandinistas and weren’t getting enough food, medical care and assistance to establish themselves in civilian life.

The U.S.-backed Contras fought the leftist Sandinistas for nine years in a civil war. Last month, a U.S.-backed opposition coalition took power in Nicaragua after free elections, but the Contras have been unwilling to completely disarm.

Sovalbarro said the Sandinistas were subverting President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro’s efforts at reconciliation.

″The government is sympathetic. But it doesn’t have any money, and the Sandinistas are disobeying orders,″ he said.

He cited last week’s civil service strikes, which virtually paralyzed the government, as an example. The public employees’ union is controlled by the Sandinistas.

Sovalbarro spoke after a meeting of the Contra high command at the mayor’s house in El Almendro, a village 110 miles southeast of Managua.

El Almendro is at the center of one of five security zones where Contra fighters agreed to gather after Mrs. Chamorro took over from President Daniel Ortega on April 25.

The Contras had agreed to demobilize by June 10, and Sovalbarro said that deadline could still be met if there was ″an atmosphere of confidence.″

He said the Sandinistas would have to stop their ″war of insults″ against the Contras and would also have to stop ″trying to destabilize the government.″

″The key point for us to live in peace,″ he said ″is for there to be a total demobilization throughout the country. This won’t be resolved if just the Contras turn in their arms.″

Sovalbarro could cite only a few examples of harassment - two demobilized fighters beaten by Sandinista militants in Masaya, another fighter’s body found along a road. He said one former fighter had returned to camp complaining of harassment.

A doctor, identified only as Javier, said the Contras had trained personnel to set up a rehabilitation center, but no medical supplies had arrived.

Denis Galeano, another member of the high command, said talks were held about establishing El Almendro as a center for development where Contras could settle.

El Almendro is set in a sparsely populated ranching area where support for the rebels is strong. The nearest Sandinista troops spotted by AP reporters were 25 miles up a dirt road to the north.

Roberto Ferrey, a go-between with Mrs. Chamorro’s government, had said Saturday the Contras would continue disarming, despite the high command’s decision.

But Sovalbarro said that simply meant individual Contras wouldn’t be stopped if they wanted to leave. He said that had always been the case - the Contras are volunteers and anyone can leave any time.

″But as leaders, we cannot tell our fighters to demobilize until there is a guarantee that they will be left in peace,″ Sovalbarro said.

Fighters interviewed by AP said they would not disband without orders.

″The Sandinistas are doing things that aren’t good for us,″ said a rebel who called himself Bengala, ″the Bengal.″ He said he had been fighting for six years.

About 1,000 Contras have turned in their weapons, according to international observers and Sovalbarro. Sovalbarro said about 15,000 remain under arms, but the observers put the figure at about 11,000.

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