MANAGUA, Nicaragua — President Daniel Ortega opened talks between his Sandinista government and 12 unarmed opposition groups Monday, urging them to find a "patriotic common ground" to help end the Nicaraguan war.
"We who govern are willing to listen and take account of anything that will enrich the democratic process and achieve peace," Ortega said in a conciliatory speech inaugurating the open-ended forum on political issues in the six-year-old conflict.
The so-called national dialogue brought the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front face to face with the broadest spectrum of internal civic opponents gathered together since the front took power with the overthrow of dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
Regional Peace Plan
The talks are required under a peace accord signed Aug. 7 by Ortega and four other Central American presidents. That accord calls for a cease-fire, amnesty and steps toward democratization in each country afflicted by guerrilla insurgencies, and a cutoff of outside aid to rebel groups, by Nov. 7. The dialogue is supposed to bring together embattled governments with unarmed political opposition groups and rebels who lay down their arms.
President Jose Napoleon Duarte of El Salvador went beyond the accord and opened truce negotiations with leftist guerrilla chiefs Sunday, but Ortega has refused to meet with the U.S.-backed contras fighting his government in the countryside.
Nicaragua's 11 legally registered opposition groups--five leftist parties and six to the right of the Sandinistas--were invited to the dialogue, as was the Democratic Coordinate, the principal rightist coalition, which does not consider Ortega's rule legitimate.
The coordinate threatened to boycott the talks, as it did the 1984 elections won by Ortega. It demanded that the government seat each of its 14 political, labor and business groups individually.
But Carlos Huembes, president of the coalition, and Ramiro Gurdian, the vice president, walked into the convention hall just before Ortega rose to speak. They said they would try to put the rightist coalition's demand for broader participation on the agenda.
The coalition is calling for parallel cease-fire talks between the government and contra leaders, as well as for presidential elections two years ahead of the ones now scheduled for 1990.
Ortega also faces demands urging him to lift a wartime state of emergency, suspend the military draft, allow the reopening of 22 radio news programs closed down in 1982, publish details of the national budget, free all political prisoners and end Sandinista party control of the army and police.
"There are many complex problems on which it will not be easy to achieve a consensus," the president said in his speech.
While not rejecting any specific demands, he said the five-nation peace plan "recognizes the legitimacy of existing governments" and should be respected as a basis for the talks.
Calling on all parties to oppose further U.S. aid to the rebels, he added:
"It is important to find a patriotic common ground. We ought to put the national interest above our political and ideological interests, which are often extreme and confrontational, and above the interests of the foreign power that attacks our nation and has no respect for our possibilities for solving our own problems."
Monday's session was a ceremonial prelude to substantive talks that will start Thursday. Ortega named Carlos Nunez, president of the National Assembly and a member of the nine-man Sandinista directorate, to represent the government.
Nunez said Ortega has authorized him to make certain concessions in the talks but did not disclose what they are. He said other measures demanded by the opposition could be approved by the government.
Some opposition leaders said they are skeptical of the whole exercise.
"In no way should we feel so enthusiastic to believe that the Sandinista Front is going to act with sincerity," Huembes said.
Virgilio Godoy of the Liberal Independent Party, a leading opposition figure, said he was pleased by the tone of Ortega's speech but not by the choice of Nunez, whom he called "a tough guy who is always an obstacle in negotiations."
"If the Sandinista Front had agreed to a dialogue eight years ago," Godoy added, "we wouldn't be in this mess."