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Messenger Role Barred by Nicaragua Cardinal : Obando Says Both Managua and Contras Seem Willing to Let Him Make Proposals for Peace

November 16, 1987|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The senior Roman Catholic prelate of Nicaragua said Sunday that leaders of both the government and the guerrilla insurgency appear willing to give him authority as a mediator to make proposals for ending the Nicaraguan war.

Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo told reporters after a Mass that he has "sounded out" President Daniel Ortega and leaders of the Contras on the question of his powers during a visit to the United States last week.

"I would not agree (to mediate) if I were a simple messenger," the cardinal said. "We talked about the formation of a mediation commission. In that case, I would not be just a messenger, but an intermediary who could make suggestions to the government as well as to the Nicaraguan Resistance."

The Roman Catholic leader said he must receive the rebels' cease-fire proposal and written confirmation of his authority from both sides before he can formally accept the peace mission.

Other Disputes

Before indirect cease-fire negotiations can start, Obando must also resolve disputes over the site of the talks and the role of four Americans proposed by House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) to help the mediation effort, church officials said.

Complying with a Central American peace accord signed by Ortega, Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government on Nov. 5 reversed its longstanding refusal of any contact with the U.S.-backed rebel leadership.

Ortega asked the 61-year-old cardinal to serve as a go-between in talks to achieve a cease-fire called for by the accord, then invited him to receive the government's truce proposal in Washington last Friday.

The cardinal returned to Managua late Saturday after meeting in Miami that day with Aristides Sanchez, Azucena Ferrey and Adolfo Calero of the six-member Nicaraguan Resistance directorate.

The Sandinista government's one-month truce offer would require rebel troops inside Nicaragua to move into one of three cease-fire zones by Dec. 5 and surrender their weapons to a team of international observers by Jan. 5 in order to be eligible for amnesty.

The rebel proposal, outlined by rebel leaders in telephone interviews but not yet formally delivered, rejects both major elements of Ortega's offer. The Contras' position is that rebel forces must be given control of territory where they stand, rather than be confined to certain zones, and not subjected to any deadline for laying down their weapons.

"Whatever territory our troops have won on the battlefield cannot be taken away at the negotiating table," Alfredo Cesar, a Nicaraguan Resistance director, said from San Jose, Costa Rica. "They must be allowed to stay in the field until there is full democracy in Nicaragua."

The government contends that the rebels' 10,000 troops, who have never captured and held a single major town, do not control territory.

Positions Sharply at Odds

Church officials say the two positions are so sharply at odds that they cannot be reconciled without active involvement by a third party.

Cesar and Sanchez said their cease-fire proposal will be given to Cardinal Obando this week--either via messenger to Managua or in a meeting with him in another Central American country.

Both men said the rebel leadership would be willing to consider a compromise proposal from Obando.

Msgr. Bismarck Carballo, a spokesman for the cardinal who accompanied him to Washington, said Ortega was first unwilling to give Obando authority to make his own proposals. According to Carballo, Ortega relented at the insistence of Speaker Wright, who was present at their meeting Friday.

No Public Comment

Sandinista officials have not commented publicly on what authority Obando will have.

But Carballo said Ortega endorsed Wright's suggestion that four Americans be included on a mediation team that would advise the cardinal on military matters and help him make proposals.

Carballo identified the four as Paul C. Warnke, head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency under former President Jimmy Carter; Edward King, a retired colonel who has studied Central American armies, and J. Wilson Morris and Richard Pena, aides to Wright.

Resistance leaders said they will refuse to meet with any mediation team that includes Americans.

"We told the cardinal that his advisers have to be Nicaraguans or Central Americans," Sanchez said. "This is a Central American peace process. North Americans do not understand our idiosyncrasies."

Deepening Involvement

By proposing American advisers to a mediation team, rebel leaders said, Wright appeared to be deepening his involvement in the peace process.

The rebel leaders joined the Reagan Administration in criticizing Wright's role. They said he appears to be acting at the behest of Ortega in an effort to assure congressional opposition to renewal of the Contras' U.S. military aid.

Warnke said Sunday there was "no suggestion" that he or other Americans be "involved in the negotiations."

"If the cardinal wants to consult with us, we would be available," he said. "The decision to accept (the commission) is entirely that of Obando."

Will Consult Rebel Leaders

Obando said he will consult with rebel leaders before naming his mediation team or naming a site for the talks.

The government has rejected a suggestion by Obando and the rebel leaders that the talks take place in Managua. Ortega has threatened to jail any rebel leader who comes home without accepting amnesty, but the rebels contend that the issue of amnesty should be reserved for the peace talks.

Ortega has proposed that the talks take place in the United States. But rebel leaders said they prefer to meet Obando elsewhere in Central America if they remain barred from Nicaragua.

Obando expressed some annoyance that the dispute had not been resolved. "I cannot be like a football, going from one goal to another," he said.

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