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Dissident Catholic Bishop Expelled From Nicaragua

July 05, 1986|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — In a continuing clampdown on domestic opposition, the Sandinista government Friday expelled one of Nicaragua's leading Roman Catholic bishops, accusing him of "criminal and unpatriotic behavior."

Bishop Pablo Antonio Vega, 66, vice president of the Nicaraguan Bishops Conference and one of the revolutionary government's harshest critics, apparently was driven to the Nicaragua-Honduras border by Interior Ministry officials and deported at El Espino border crossing.

Honduran officials at the border and at the Foreign Ministry in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, later said that Vegas had been granted political asylum.

In a communique broadcast over a national radio hookup, the Managua government announced it will expel anyone who supports the Nicaraguan rebels, called contras.

"The decision has been made to suspend indefinitely the right to remain in the country of whoever, like Bishop Vega, does not deserve to be Nicaraguan and whose place is at the side of (President) Reagan and the mercenary bands that assassinate children," the communique said.

It said the decision would be effective "as long as there is a U.S. aggression against Nicaragua."

Vega is the second Catholic Church leader to be banned from the country since the U.S. House of Representatives voted June 26 to approve $100 million in aid to the contras.

Last Saturday, the government refused to allow the church's main spokesman, Father Bismarck Carballo to return to Nicaragua from a trip abroad. The Sandinistas accuse the two churchmen of supporting contras aid.

'Right to Insurrection'

Vega's deportation came two days after he gave a press conference here in which he defended "a people's right to insurrection," called the World Court "partial" for its decision declaring that U.S. backing for the contras violates international law, and implied that the Soviet Union and Sandinistas would share the blame in the event of any U.S. invasion of Nicaragua.

Vega also charged the government with "a constant . . . and systematic pressure to silence the church."

The bishop has criticized the Sandinistas in the past, including calling them totalitarians, but after the House voted for contras aid, the Sandinistas announced that they would no longer tolerate those they consider to be agents of U.S. imperialism. The government said it would tighten enforcement of a state of emergency decree limiting such civil liberties as free speech and assembly.

The government also closed La Prensa, the only opposition daily newspaper in the country.

Calls for Action

For the last two days, government-owned and pro-government newspapers have been calling on officials to take action against Vega.

The communique announcing Vega's expulsion cited the deaths of 32 civilians, 12 of them children, who were killed in the northern province of Jinotega when their truck ran over a land mine allegedly set by the contras. An Interior Ministry spokesman said the explosive was an anti-tank mine detonated by remote control.

The communique said that the alleged contras attack occurred "24 hours after the declarations of Msgr. Vega . . . by the mercenaries of Reagan and of Vega."

The communique also said that Vega had attended a forum of the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington last March, where he met with two leaders of the main contras group, Adolfo Calero and Enrique Bermudez of the Nicaraguan Democratic Force. Vega had confirmed that he spoke with Calero at the lunch.

On June 4, the communique said, Vega again traveled to the United States "to offer his support to President Reagan's request for arms, money and military advisers for the terrorist forces that assassinate the people of Nicaragua." It said that Reagan had cited Vega in his appeal to Congress to approve the aid.

'Thrown Out'

Government officials would not comment on how Vega was expelled from the country, except to say that he was in Honduras, where the contras maintain their principle military bases.

"He was thrown out," said a Sandinista official.

"Vega is guilty of treason against his country," said another Sandinista who asked not to be identified.

A well-informed source said the Honduran government was notified when Vega was en route to that country.

Zobeda de Ortega, a spokeswoman for Vega's diocese in Juigalpa, about 85 miles east of the capital, said that the bishop was called by the regional delegate of the office of the presidency on Thursday night and told to report to his office at 8 a.m. Friday.

Ortega said in a telephone interview that Vega had no idea he would be deported and that he had planned to return for a 9 a.m. appointment that he never made. An administrator of the diocese said that Vega did not take any belongings with him.

Ortega said she was notified by Interior Ministry officials at 12:30 p.m. that Vega was in Honduras.

Sandinista Confirmation

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