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Dozens of Election Officials Kidnapped in Northern Nicaragua

June 20, 1996

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ Rearmed Contra rebels kidnapped 51 election officials Wednesday in northern Nicaragua to press the army and police to withdraw from the area.

Rosa Marina Zelaya, president of the Supreme Electoral Council, said the officials _ 38 men and 13 women _ were kidnapped near the village of San Andres de Bocay, a mountainous region close to the Honduran border.

They were helping to draw up voter registration rolls for Oct. 20 general elections.

Army spokesman Col. Jose Garcia Estrada said the kidnappers took the victims across the Coco River into Honduras. Military patrols spotted them two miles inside Honduran territory but took no action, he said.

President Violeta Chamorro told reporters Nicaraguan officials were in contact with Honduran authorities and she would discuss the issue with Honduran President Carlos Roberto Reina on Thursday.

Reina and four other Central American presidents meet in Managua on Thursday for a seminar on preserving renewable resources.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo and Sergio Caramagna of the Organization of American States, have offered to act as mediators, Zelaya said.

She said the officials were abducted by about 15 rebels headed by a rebel calling himself ``El Licenciado.″ She had no further details.

Police say they believe the man is Luis Alberto Rivera Herrera, a Nicaraguan.

In late May, an American elections expert was kidnapped in the same area. The group demanded that the government set up two new voter registration stations.

Cynthia Gersony, 41, of New York City was released unharmed 70 hours later. She was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development as an election observer.

The Contras, once supported by the United States, fought the leftist Sandinistas during the 10-year Sandinista rule. The Sandinistas lost in 1990 to a conservative coalition headed by President Violeta Chamorro.

The guerrillas laid down their arms when the coalition government took office, but several rebel bands in northern Nicaragua soon rearmed, claiming the government failed to deliver on its promises.

The government has deployed some 5,000 troops in the north in an effort to end the banditry.

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