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New Managua Amnesty Covers Contras, Political Foes

October 29, 1987|MARJORIE MILLER | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The Nicaraguan government has drafted a new amnesty law that covers Contra combatants and "the vast majority" of political prisoners, including many who were National Guardsmen under the late dictator Anastasio Somoza, Sandinista officials said Wednesday.

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto said the amnesty law would exclude political prisoners convicted of "atrocities and genocide," but he did not elaborate. He said the law would be presented to the National Assembly this week and approved by Nov. 5, the date the Central American peace plan is supposed to go into effect.

'As Much as 75%'

"It is very, very broad," D'Escoto said in an interview. Asked how many of the country's political prisoners could be freed, D'Escoto said, "the vast majority. . . . It could be as much as 75%."

The government admits to holding about 4,000 political prisoners, including 2,500 to 3,000 former guardsmen. Opposition human rights activists say the figure is about 7,000, including hundreds of people who are being held in state security jails without trial.

D'Escoto announced the amnesty plan during a two-day meeting here of foreign ministers from the signatory nations to work out details of the peace plan signed by the region's five presidents Aug. 7.

Diplomatic sources said the meetings were frequently tense, with disagreements over implementation of the accord between the leftist Sandinistas and officials from Honduras, the closest U.S. ally in the region.

Costa Rican Minister Rodrigo Madrigal said the five countries agreed that the Nov. 5 date by which the accord is supposed to go into effect is the "beginning" of the peace process, rather than a deadline to determine the plan's success, as the Reagan Administration has interpreted it. He said the foreign ministers agreed to start talks over regional security and disarmament issues within the next 45 days.

The plan calls for cease-fires, amnesty programs and democratic reforms in the countries fighting insurgencies. It also calls on the countries to prevent rebel groups from using their territory against a neighbor, and for a halt to outside aid to the rebels.

In El Salvador, meanwhile, the Legislative Assembly approved an amnesty law on Tuesday that will cover nearly 1,000 political prisoners accused of aiding leftist guerrillas, as well as anyone involved in the thousands of killings by right-wing death squads.

The law is to take effect Nov. 5 and to cover anyone accused of political crimes committed before Oct. 22. It will, for instance, cover the five National Guardsmen now in jail for the rapes and killings of four American churchwomen in 1980.

The law specifically excludes, however, anyone found responsible for the 1980 killing of Msgr. Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador shot to death while saying Mass in the capital's cathedral.

No suspects have been arrested in the case, which the government recently reopened.

Activist's Killers Not Covered

Because of the Oct. 22 date, the law also would not cover the assassins of a human rights activist killed Monday. Herbert Ernesto Anaya, president of the opposition El Salvador Human Rights Commission, was gunned down as he left his house to take two of his children to school Monday morning. No suspects have been identified. The killers of at least three other commission leaders in the last seven years have never been apprehended either.

The government condemned the Anaya shooting, and the commission blamed the killing on death squads with links to the military. Two days of demonstrations against the government of President Jose Napoleon Duarte and the U.S. Embassy have followed the slaying.

Ruben Zamora, a leader of the Revolutionary Democratic Front, the political arm of the leftist rebels fighting the Duarte government, said from exile in Managua, Nicaragua, that the killing was aimed at preventing a political solution to the war and the return of exiles such as himself.

Zamora has said he plans to go back to El Salvador under the Central American peace plan.

"I stick to my decision to return. The assassination of a man who dedicated himself to human rights introduces a greater responsibility to return and work with the people," Zamora said in a telephone interview.

Zamora, whose brother, Mario, was assassinated in 1980, criticized the amnesty plan for including death squad killings.

Under the amnesty plans in both El Salvador and Nicaragua, political prisoners are to be pardoned automatically, but rebels and exiles must ask for amnesty, officials said.

D'Escoto said that the government would not release prisoners convicted of infamous crimes because of the risk that "lynch mobs" might seek revenge. He did not elaborate.

To comply with the peace plan, the Sandinistas have allowed the opposition newspaper La Prensa to reopen and the opposition church radio station, Radio Catolica, to start broadcasting again.

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