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Contras Leaders Meet in Angry Discord Over Policy, Power

April 15, 1986|DOYLE McMANUS | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The top leaders of the rebels fighting Nicaragua's leftist regime met in angry disagreement Monday over who should control their money and their troops.

Only days before the House was scheduled to take up the issue of military aid to the contras, the leaders of the rebels' umbrella group, the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO), met with U.S. officials in an attempt to iron out their internal conflicts over policy and power.

The most moderate of the group's leaders, Arturo Cruz, stormed out of a meeting last week threatening to resign unless the largest guerrilla army, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), was put under civilian control, contra officials said.

'One Organization' Needed

"The issue is integrating the FDN into UNO, so that we have one organization instead of several parallel organizations," said Alfonso Robelo, a Cruz ally in the three-man leadership of the umbrella group. Robelo is now the political leader of a rebel force based in Costa Rica.

"We want UNO to be in control of its own army," he said. "No organization within UNO should have its own army."

But the Honduras-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force, led by Adolfo Calero, insists that it should retain some autonomy--a position that means in practice that its officers want to keep control of the contras' main military force.

"These people who are criticizing us are penalizing us for our success," Calero complained recently.

Congressional Aid Decision

The argument is important to the Reagan Administration's chances of winning military aid for the contras because key members of Congress have sided with Cruz and Robelo in calling for reforms in the umbrella group.

The Nicaraguan Democratic Force, a guerrilla army that was secretly organized, financed and directed by the CIA from 1982 until 1984, has been criticized in Congress for including officers from the National Guard of Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua's late dictator, among its top leaders.

Critics have also questioned whether its leaders are committed to democracy and whether they have broad political support among the people of Nicaragua. Calero and other leaders of the guerrilla army reject the charges.

Must Broaden Base

Some Administration officials agree with the critics and say that the contras will never succeed unless they broaden their political appeal. "Unless we can find a way to break the FDN's monopoly, this thing is going nowhere," one official said.

The arguments within the rebel leadership have been going on for months, but they have clearly sharpened as the prospect of administering $100 million in U.S. aid has become more palpable.

One contra official who attended some of the meetings said that there had been "very strong language and recriminations."

"We agree that there should be a reorganization of UNO but we have differences over what it will be," he said.

Reference to Somoza

A source said that Robelo and Cruz even accused Calero of using "Somocista tactics" against them--a reference to the pre-1979 dictatorship.

In return, he said, Calero accused the two others of "blackmail" by threatening to resign just before the House vote. If Cruz walks out of the umbrella group, Administration officials said, it could cause an uproar in Congress.

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