MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Rebels ambushed a government jeep Friday in central Nicaragua, killing five civilians including a Sandinista leader active in organizing farm cooperatives, armed forces spokesmen reported.
Military officials said they believe the target of the attack was the vehicle's driver, Alfonso Nunez, vice president of the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers. Nunez's brother, Daniel, is president of the union.
The attack by guerrillas, known as contras, came on the eve of a national holiday to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The Sandinistas plan to put on a rally, military parade and weapons display today to demonstrate their political support and their will to defeat the contras. They have invited guests from around the world.
An army spokesman, 2nd Lt. Roberto Herrera, said the shooting took place about 6:30 a.m. near Comalapa, about 70 miles east of Managua in the central province of Contales. He said that Nunez was often on the road at that hour on his way to work in nearby Juigalpa.
Another man and three women were also killed, and two other passengers were injured, Herrera said. He said that no one in the vehicle was armed.
About 1,500 Contras
Nicaraguan army officials say they believe that about 1,500 U.S.-backed contras are operating in the central provinces of Boaco and Chontales and in the eastern province of Zelaya.
There are many small, independent farmers in the area, many of whom dislike the Sandinistas and the centralized economy they have adopted. Pablo Antonio Vega, the Roman Catholic bishop of Juigalpa, in Chontales province, was expelled from Nicaragua in July because of his alleged support for the contras.
Last month, Nicaraguan forces shot down a C-123 cargo plane with an American crew carrying arms and ammunition for the contras operating in the area. The sole survivor of the plane, Eugene Hasenfus, 45, Marinette, Wis., is on trial before a special people's tribunal on terrorism and other charges. A verdict is expected next week.
Nunez, the union official, had long been a Sandinista activist. He and his brothers were both imprisoned by the government of Anastasio Somoza, which was ousted in 1979 by the insurrection that brought the Sandinistas to power.