Contra Alliance in Danger Amid Internal Squabbling

January 28, 1987|RICHARD BOUDREAUX and DOYLE McMANUS | Times Staff Writers

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The U.S.-sponsored alliance of Nicaraguan rebel groups appeared to be splitting apart over internal squabbles Tuesday, hampering the contras ' ability to coordinate military actions and speak with a single political voice.

Commanders of contra groups in southern Nicaragua said here that they have withdrawn from the United Nicaraguan Opposition because of dissatisfaction with the way the coalition has been run, complaining that they have received no U.S. military aid.

At the same time, one of UNO's three directors, Arturo Cruz, has decided to resign from the alliance because he believes that the group is unfairly dominated by the largest and most conservative rebel group, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN), sources close to Cruz said.

And a second UNO director, Alfonso Robelo, also complained publicly about the Nicaraguan Democratic Force on Tuesday, charging that it is attempting to take control of the entire rebel movement.

"An alliance requires a minimum of cooperation," Robelo said. "Since (the southern front commanders) have seen no cooperation, they see no sense in staying in the alliance."

The withdrawal of the southern front contras from the UNO alliance is a severe blow to the rebels' prospects because it means that those units, with as many as 2,300 troops, will no longer coordinate military strategy with the larger force, which fights mostly in northern and central Nicaragua, contra officials said.

Along with Cruz's reported plans to resign, it also means that the contras no longer can claim to speak with a unified political voice--one of the Reagan Administration's basic aims when it pressured the rebels to set up UNO in 1985.

In Washington, a State Department official said that the Administration is concerned about the splintering of the alliance and is working to heal the rifts.

"We're committed to a broad-based democratic resistance movement, and we are committed to do whatever is necessary to help build that," he said, acknowledging that the Nicaraguan Democratic Force has largely dominated the contras' political and military efforts.

U.S. Aid at Stake

The official said that the southern front commanders' complaints about the lack of U.S. aid "can and will be rectified shortly." The broader issue of how the contra movement is organized, he said wryly, "may take a bit more time."

The issue is important not only in Central America but also in Congress, where an Administration request for $105 million in military aid for the rebels will be debated this year. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have urged the contras to broaden their political appeal beyond the conservative FDN, whose leadership includes several former supporters of Anastasio Somoza, the rightist Nicaraguan dictator who was overthrown in 1979.

FDN leader Adolfo Calero--who is also one of the directors of UNO, along with Cruz and Robelo--refused to respond directly to his colleagues' complaints. "We are part of a democratic alliance, and we discuss issues within that alliance," he said through a spokesman.

The seven commanders of the southern front announced their decision in a communique signed Saturday inside southern Nicaragua and distributed Tuesday in San Jose. It said they would keep fighting Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government "in an independent way."

'Promises Not Fulfilled'

The southern front commanders said they were promised "immediate and massive military aid" from the United States when their army was formed last May and joined the rebel alliance, but that "the promises were not fulfilled."

"We have become the victims of deception and an attempt to destroy the southern forces," they added.

The communique did not blame anyone specifically for the cutoff. Some rebel officials charged that the northern force was to blame, but others said the supply problem was the CIA's fault.

"Either the CIA officials can do nothing (for the southern front) because they have been tied up in internal problems or because they are totally inept," Robelo told reporters. "Or else there is a manipulation to block military aid to the south because they feel more comfortable with the FDN."

'Lack of Confidence'

The statement--signed by Fernando Chamorro, commander in chief of the southern front, and six other rebel chiefs--said that they had met Saturday in the southeastern Nicaraguan town of El Serrano, about 20 miles north of the Costa Rican border.

Many of the southern front commanders fought for the Sandinista revolution before breaking with its leaders, unlike the more conservative FDN leadership.

"There is a lack of confidence, a difference in ideologies between them," said Robelo, who once served in the Sandinista junta. "Some people think maybe we're trying to create a hybrid between a horse and a lion. Maybe it's got to be one or the other."

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