MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The government has suspended a program allowing its citizens to visit relatives in Costa Rica each weekend, citing decisions by hundreds of Nicaraguans to remain in that neighboring country.
Federico Lopez Arguello, the president's representative in southeastern Nicaragua, announced the move late Thursday, accusing Costa Rican officials of trying to persuade Nicaraguans to seek refugee status there.
Costa Rican authorities estimate that at least 2,000 Nicaraguans live in refugee camps there, fleeing the fighting in Nicaragua between Sandinista troops and U.S.-supported Contras.
The visitors' program began Sept. 12, allowing Nicaraguan residents to cross at established checkpoints on the frontiers with Honduras on the north and Costa Rica on the south for one-day visits with relatives living in those two nations.
No change was announced in the program with Honduras.
Sandinista officials had said they hoped that the expatriates in Costa Rica would decide to come home to Nicaragua after seeing their families. But at least 1,200 Nicaraguans remained in Costa Rica after the last visiting day Oct. 18, according to Sandinista authorities.
Costa Rica's Public Safety Ministry estimated the number of Nicaraguans remaining behind that day at 600 and asked the Foreign Ministry to open talks with Sandinista officials on preventing the weekly exodus.
The southern border crossings occurred at Sapoa, about 100 miles southeast of Managua. On the Costa Rican side of the border is the town of Penas Blancas.
Faced Oct. 18 with what they said were more than 5,000 visiting Nicaraguans, Costa Rican authorities took emergency measures to accommodate those asking for refugee status. These authorities planned this week to decide on granting refugee status to the new arrivals and to ask the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for more money to cope with them.