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Contras Accused of Stepping Up Attacks on Civilian Targets

September 24, 1987|ERIC LICHTBLAU | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — In a report expected to give added artillery to opponents of U.S. aid to the contras , a watch group says that the Nicaraguan rebels have stepped up their systematic attacks on lightly guarded civilian communities in recent months.

The 99-page report was released here and in more than 100 other cities around the country by Witness for Peace, a U.S.-based group that has sent volunteers to Nicaragua over the last four years to investigate alleged abuses. It lists instances in which it says 350 civilians were killed, wounded or kidnaped by the contras this year.

Ed Griffin-Nolan, a Witness for Peace volunteer who drafted the report, said the contras have intensified their attacks on defenseless, "innocent victims" in rural Nicaragua.

Contra spokesmen, their advocates in Congress and State Department officials rejected the report's contentions and labeled Witness for Peace a politically biased group. But congressional opponents of contra aid said that the report's extensive documentation will aid their efforts to defeat a request for $270 million in military assistance when it is sent to Congress by the Reagan Administration later this term.

Rep. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) called the report "an important source of information" in the continuing debate, and Sen. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) said that its findings could mark "a turning point" in understanding the real costs of U.S. support for the Nicaraguan resistance.

For critics of Reagan Administration policy in Nicaragua, the report serves to substantiate claims of abuse, despite recent pledges of reform from contra leaders.

"We were told that the contras were cleaning up their act," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). "(But) the contras continue to target noncombatants. Women and children are as likely to lose their life or limb as Sandinista soldiers."

But California Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), a strong contra supporter, contending that much of the documentation on alleged attacks was "absolute total fabrication," said: "I can't look at anything they (Witness for Peace) say with credibility. They are blinded by Communist Sandinistas."

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), while conceding that the rebels are "not all candidates for sainthood," characterized the report as a "tactic of the left" to spew out "spates of atrocity stories" whenever an aid vote nears.

Likewise, a State Department official criticized the report's sponsor as "not a particularly credible group."

Witness for Peace officials, offering pages of detailed description of attacks and several graphic pictures of bloodied victims taken by their volunteers, say that the group is nonpartisan.

Contra spokeswoman Marta Sacasa acknowledged "in a civil war, unfortunately civilians get killed," but added: "It would be foolish for any rebel army that lives by the support of the people to hurt them. . . . That would be the end of the resistance."

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