SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Talks aimed at a cease-fire in Nicaragua resumed here Monday night despite one of the largest offensives by U.S.-backed Contras in six years of war.
The Sandinista government in Managua said that rebel forces attacked the country's three most important mining centers Sunday and were still fighting in one of the towns. It also reported a civilian cargo plane hit by rebel missile fire was forced down in Costa Rica, injuring four crew members.
Bosco Matamoros, a spokesman for the rebel negotiators, said the offensive was part of a "political-military strategy" to force the Sandinistas to "open up the democratic process" through concessions in the talks here.
But Victor Hugo Tinoco, the chief Sandinista negotiator, dismissed the attacks as a "propaganda exercise" of no military significance. He said his delegation is here to arrange the mechanical details of a cease-fire, not engage in political negotiations.
The resumption of talks here, nearly three weeks after a first-round deadlock, indicated that neither side wants to be blamed for a definitive breakdown before the U.S. Congress votes on an Administration request for $270 million in new Contra aid.
"The Contras and President Reagan are desperate for more money so they can continue their war against Nicaragua," Tinoco said. "That's the objective of these attacks.
"This is an obstacle to our efforts, but we will keep trying to advance in the negotiation of a cease-fire," he added.
The rebels claimed to have killed or wounded 100 Sandinista soldiers in the attacks on the towns of Siuna, La Rosita and Bonanza in remote northeastern Nicaragua. The Defense Ministry in Managua reported 23 government soldiers and 24 Contras killed in Siuna and La Rosita, and 53 civilians wounded in Siuna.
Fighting in 1 Town
Both sides said fighting continued Monday in Bonanza after rebel forces retreated from the two other towns where gold, silver and copper is mined.
Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, arriving to mediate the talks here, called the bloodshed "lamentable" and said it could have been avoided by the acceptance of his truce proposal in the first round of negotiations Dec. 3 and 4.
Those talks collapsed after the Sandinistas declined to accept proposed truce terms calling for complete press freedom, an end to the state of emergency, and a general amnesty. They insisted that Obando's proposal be expanded to end outside aid and sanctuary for the Contras.
The warring factions later agreed to a largely symbolic two-day Christmas truce, but that was before the Contra offensive began Sunday.
Obando, the country's Roman Catholic primate, met Monday night with a Sandinista delegation at this Caribbean capital's Roman Catholic archdiocese headquarters. He was to meet there later with rebel representatives.
The two days of talks were expected to focus largely on the technical military aspects of a cease-fire while leaving the underlying political causes of the war for later discussion.
Obando told reporters he had brought just one new proposal: that technical experts of both sides hold face-to-face talks, instead of the indirect negotiations held last time. He said direct talks could save time and shorten the war.
The Sandinistas agreed to hold peace talks with the Contras only after signing a Central American peace accord requiring negotiated settlements of the region's guerrilla wars.
But they have refused to sit at the peace table with Contras and brought three foreigners here to negotiate on their behalf. They are Hans Jurgen Wischnewski, a leader of West Germany's Social Democratic Party, Paul S. Reichler, a Washington lawyer, and a law associate. The firm has represented the Managua government for eight years.
The three negotiators were to begin meeting late Monday, in Obando's presence, with an all-Nicaraguan Contra delegation that includes three field commanders.
This unusual arrangement baffled the Dominican hosts of the talks.
'Rely on Foreigners'
"It's strange that a government that speaks so much of nationalism would rely on foreigners," said a Dominican cabinet official.
Asked by reporters why Managua was negotiating through foreigners, Tinoco repeated the Sandinista insistence that only through direct talks with Washington--which finances, supplies and trains the Contras--could his government settle the war.
"That would be the real solution," he said. "Any other talks are marginal, secondary. We have to speak with the director of the circus, not with the circus employees."
While affirming Nicaragua's willingness "to take all the necessary steps to reach a cease-fire in the shortest time possible," he said an agreement "is not going to happen in two or three meetings. It's not going to be simple."
Aside from the deadlock over political conditions for a cease-fire, both sides are far apart in their technical proposals.