Sandinistas Say Contras Attack; Farmers Praise Calm
LAS COLINAS, Nicaragua (AP) _ Two Sandinista army patrols said Nicaraguan rebels attacked their troops in separate incidents in the north, and one officer said the insurgents yelled that they had orders to break a truce.
A rebel spokesman in Miami who identified himself only as Joaquin said Saturday night he had no reports of the attacks or that the cease-fire had ended. ″If they attack our positions, we have to return fire,″ he said.
A fragile truce was declared March 21, the start of face-to-face talks between the U.S.-backed rebels known as Contras and the Soviet-supported government troops.
But a series of talks, the latest ending on Thursday, made little headway in ending the civil war that has killed more than 26,000 people.
The 60-day cease-fire was to end May 31, but the two sides extended it by tacit agreement, each saying it would initiate no ″offensive″ action against the other but would take defense action if necessary.
Second Lt. Julio Cesar Rizo, the commander of a group of Sandinista soldiers, said Contra rebels ambushed a small unit of his troops early Saturday in Jinotega province, about 160 miles northeast of the capital, Managua.
Rizo said there were no injuries. ″They just started shooting,″ he said.
Earlier Saturday, Lt. Ronald Dorado reported heavy fighting Friday farther north, in Las Colinas.
″We sent a message with a farmer to the Contras saying we wanted to talk,″ said Dorado. ″They responded with rifle fire.″
Dorado said that during the half hour of fighting, the Contras yelled to him that ″they had orders to break the truce.″ He said the government troops suffered no injuries but that one Contra died and three suffered wounds.
Residents heard the gunfire but called it minor compared to fighting in the region before the cease-fire.
The truce has given many in battle-scarred northern Nicaragua a chance to resume duties they had abandoned in fear.
″It used to be terrible,″ said Griselva Torres, 48. ″There were bombings, missiles, mortars and shooting all the time.″
Nearby, around the village of La Rica, several bullet-pocked homes sat abandoned. Weeds and vines grew over the shells of houses.
″Thank God there’s a truce,″ Mrs. Torres said.
La Rica became a ghost town a few years ago because of heavy fighting. But Nicaraguans have moved back, and a hilltop Sandinista military base now guards the town.
Julio Cesar Lago said he had moved away from La Rica but returned in April, about a month after the cease-fire was signed, to plant corn before the May rains.
″It’s calm now, but it was bad,″ he said.
Dario Rugama, a 40-year-old farmer living in nearby Quebrada Grande, said the truce has brought peace and freedom of movement to the region.
″We just want to work and live in peace,″ he said. ″Now there’s sort of peace.″