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Sandinistas May Let Foes' Paper Reopen

September 20, 1987|MARJORIE MILLER and RICHARD BOUDREAUX | Times Staff Writers

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — In its first major step to comply with a regional peace accord, the government agreed Saturday to allow Nicaragua's opposition newspaper La Prensa to reopen, diplomats said.

Under what one diplomat called "a good-faith pact" between the government and the editors, La Prensa would be exempt from prior censorship as long as it publishes nothing to jeopardize national security. La Prensa was the only news outlet not controlled by the government when it was ordered shut on June 27, 1986, two days after the U.S. Congress approved $100 million in aid to Nicaraguan contras at war with the Sandinista government. The paper was accused of seeking "to justify U.S. aggression."

Under terms of a peace accord signed Aug. 7 by the presidents of five Central American nations, Nicaragua must permit press freedom and other democratic liberties by the time a cease-fire and a cutoff of outside aid to the contras takes effect Nov. 7.

The peace accord also calls for ending by that date a state of emergency that gives the Sandinistas broad censorship powers. The reported agreement with La Prensa leaves the state of emergency in effect.

Diplomats who declined to be identified said the agreement was reached after two days of talks between Sandinista leaders and La Prensa editors, under the mediation of Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rodrigo Madrigal.

Cristiana Chamorro, daughter of La Prensa owner Violetta Chamorro, confirmed late Saturday that her family had reached an agreement with the government but would not announce it until President Daniel Ortega gave his final approval. It was not immediately known when that decision would come.

Cristiana Chamorro, an editor at La Prensa, said that the government offered last week to allow the newspaper to reopen with prior censorship but that the family refused.

Diplomats disclosed the agreement after Ortega and Madrigal met with the Chamorros on Saturday.

No government spokesman could be reached for comment.

However, asked earlier in the day about a possible reopening of the newspaper, Ortega told The Times, "As far as La Prensa, a cease-fire, a national dialogue and lifting the state of emergency are concerned, all of those are proposals within the Guatemala accord, and we are willing to comply with that."

Since the peace pact was signed, the government has set up a National Reconciliation Commission to supervise compliance with it, and three exiled Roman Catholic priests have been allowed to return to Nicaragua.

Last Sunday, Ortega announced that "national dialogue" with all unarmed opposition groups, a step required by the accord, would begin Oct. 5.

Cristiana Chamorro said La Prensa could begin publishing within 10 days. Mechanics have been oiling the newspaper's idled presses, and rolls of newsprint have been unloaded at its plant in recent days. Many advertisers have already reserved space, she said.

La Prensa had a circulation of about 70,000 and a generally conservative political line. Cristiana Chamorro said the paper will support the peace agreement and press for a "re-establishment of democracy and Christian Nicaraguan values."

The rebel war has sparked runaway inflation in Nicaragua. Page 12.

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