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Contra Leaders Deny Split In Rebel Ranks Is Serious

May 13, 1988

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A Nicaraguan rebel leader acknowledged that dissidents are seeking to oust their military leader, Col. Enrique Bermudez, but played down reports of an uprising within the ranks.

In an interview Thursday night, Contra spokesman Bosco Matamoros also accused the Nicaraguan government of fueling the discontent and criticized the United States for not being a better ally.

Matamoros said a small group of dissidents wrongly accused Bermudez, a former national guard commander and the ranking Contra military leader, of cronyism and corruption.

The U.S.-backed rebels are fighting to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government, which has been in power since 1979.

Some reports have said that up to 4,000 fighters were engaged in a mutiny at a Contra base camp in Yamales, 20 miles north of the Honduran border.

″That’s one of the most fantastic things I’ve heard,″ Matamoros said.

The reports could not be independently confirmed because Honduran authorities barred journalists from traveling to the isolated region.

According to the spokesman, only 726 combatants were at the base.

Sources claimed some of the Contras charged Bermudez with corruption and inefficiency. Matamoros acknowledged there were gripes but said reports of a rift in the rebel movement were exaggerated.

″They have the legitimate right to differences of opinions,″ Matamoros said. ″But from that to conclude that the organization is at the breaking point ... would be to ignore the fact that this organization has 17,000 men.″

The Sandinista government in Nicaragua claims there are 6,000 Contras. Other sources say there are up to 10,000.

Bermudez, and civilian Contra leaders Pedro Joaquin Chamorro and Maria Azucena Ferrey met with the troops at Yamales this week.

″There is not a climate of confrontation there,″ the spokesman said.

The apparent rift was highlighted last week after Honduras deported seven Contras to the United States. Matamoros said the soldiers were deported becaus they were publicly discussing rebel issues, a sensitive point for the Hondurans, who for years have barely acknowledged the existence of the base camps.

One of the dissidents, Diogenes Hernandez Membreno, known as Comandante Fernando, reportedly evaded the authorities and fled to Yamales, which until last year was the Contras’ strategic command post. Matamoros said he was briefly detained by Hernandez Membreno’s troops along the road to the camp Sunday.

Matamoros said the grumblings about Bermudez surfaced last month. In response, the joint chiefs of staff sent a letter April 20 requesting a meeting to discuss the allegations. That letter, he said, was followed by one two days later from the Council of Commanders, made up of the 27 regional commanders.

The spokesman said three Contras, Hernandez Membreno, Walter Calderon and Tirzo Moreno responded in a letter April 26 that their allegations were ″not unfounded″ but did not elaborate.

″They say they oppose Bermudez’s authority. But there is no material proof, just allegations,″ Matamoros said.

Matamoros said the Council of Commanders would make the final decisions regarding the allegations. Bermudez could be removed only by the five-member national directorate, headquartered in Miami.

The internal problems come at a time when the Contras are attempting to work out a permanent truce with the Sandinistas to end the more than six-year war. Both sides have made little headway since they signed a temporary cease- fire agreement March 23.

The 60-day temporary cease-fire started April 1.

The two pro-Sandinista newspapers in Managua have been giving front-page displays to the Contra squabbles.

The cease-fire pact called for the rebels to move into seven zones. In exchange, the Sandinistas would allow them to receive supplies and send representatives to take part in national talks to resolve some of the nation’s problems. The government also was to gradually release more than 3,000 political prisoners.

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