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Nicaragua Orders Partial Truce, Lifts Ban on Radio

September 23, 1987|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — President Daniel Ortega said Tuesday that his government will establish a partial, unilateral cease-fire in certain areas of the country to be designated in the next few days.

Ortega said government troops will be concentrated in "defined areas" of the cease-fire zones and military offensives will be halted in the zones so that rebel field commanders can meet with a so-called national reconciliation commission, headed by Nicaragua's Roman Catholic cardinal, Miguel Obando y Bravo, to discuss a long-term cease-fire.

Leaders of the contras dismissed the unilateral cease-fire as a tactical maneuver to try to stop the U.S. Congress from approving further aid to the rebels.

Ortega also announced that the Roman Catholic Church's radio station will be allowed to reopen.

In a separate announcement, Interior Minister Tomas Borge suspended all prior censorship on the nation's media, imposed under wartime state of emergency laws. The emergency laws, however, remain in effect, suspending habeas corpus and the right to strike and limiting the freedom of organization.

Borge warned radio and periodical owners to exercise responsible journalism, telling them, "From now on, you have the opportunity to exercise freedom of the press that can be an example in all of Latin America."

Most of the media are pro-government or Sandinista controlled.

Ortega said that Radio Catolica is being reopened so that the church can deliver its spiritual message. Cardinal Obando said later that the radio will broadcast without restriction, even if the religious messages sometimes have a political connotation.

The radio was shut down Jan. 1, 1986, after failing to broadcast a New Year's message from Ortega. The station was accused of "constant and repeated violations of the law" and of encouraging young men to evade the draft.

Msgr. Bismarck Carballo, director of Radio Catolica, said he expects to be back on the air by Oct. 1.

Tuesday's measures are the latest in a series of steps that the Marxist-led Sandinista government has taken to comply with a peace plan signed by the five Central American presidents in Guatemala on Aug 7. On Sunday, the government announced that it would let the opposition newspaper La Prensa reopen. It was closed June 26, 1986, after the U.S. Congress approved $100 million in aid to the contras.

Earlier this month, Carballo and two other priests were allowed to return from forced exile. Carballo had been prevented from boarding a plane to Nicaragua on June 28, 1986, at the end of a speaking tour during which he allegedly spoke in support of the contras.

The peace plan, aimed primarily at ending the guerrilla wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, calls for democratic reforms, cease-fires and amnesty programs to take effect Nov. 7. It also calls for an end to foreign aid to the insurgencies and prohibits neighboring countries from allowing their territory to be used by the rebels.

National reconciliation commissions are to oversee compliance with the peace plan in each country.

In El Salvador on Tuesday, President Jose Napoleon Duarte announced that his government will hold peace talks with leftist guerrillas on Oct. 4 for the first time since November, 1984.

Duarte said the talks with the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front guerrillas and the unarmed Revolutionary Democratic Front will be moderated by the archbishop of San Salvador, Arturo Rivera y Damas, at the office of the papal nuncio in San Salvador.

The Nicaraguan government has refused to negotiate with the contras, dismissing them as a mercenary army of the United States. The Sandinistas want direct talks with U.S. officials, which the Reagan Administration refuses.

Hope for Direct Talks

In partially complying with the peace plan's truce requirement by setting up the cease-fire zones, the Sandinistas apparently hope to circumvent the overall contra leadership and deal directly with the guerrillas' field commanders.

In 1985, the Sandinistas began direct talks with Miskito Indian rebel commanders on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast. The strategy was successful in that it led to splits among the already divided Indian rebels and cease-fires with several groups.

Local peace commissions will be under the authority of the national reconciliation commission, whose president, Cardinal Obando, has been one of the Sandinistas' harshest critics. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez, who wrote the peace plan, has urged the Sandinistas to negotiate a cease-fire through Obando.

Ortega announced the plan at a press conference but gave no specifics and allowed no questions.

"We are in favor of a total cease-fire in the whole country, but we are going to work for this cease-fire in a gradual manner," Ortega said.

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