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Obando Urges 2 Sides to Resume Talks

December 23, 1987|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | Times Staff Writer

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — The mediator in the Nicaraguan war, Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, urged both factions Tuesday to make concessions so that their stalled peace talks can quickly resume.

The talks broke down Monday night after U.S.-backed Contras declined to meet here with two foreigners named by the Sandinista government as its representatives to arrange a cease-fire. The rebels insisted that a Nicaraguan official also take part, but the government refused.

Obando, Nicaragua's Roman Catholic primate, declared an indefinite suspension of the talks. He blamed neither side for the deadlock but insisted that both work to find a way to negotiate directly.

"We're at an impasse, but the dialogue is not shut off," Obando said before heading home to Managua. "We have to give time for the parties to reflect."

"I insist again that they make an effort to put aside selfishness and pride, because lives are at stake," he added.

The talks, which were scheduled to last two days, stumbled over longstanding matters of principle. The Sandinistas say that meeting directly with a Contra delegation would undermine their demand for peace talks with the United States, which trains and finances the rebel army.

The Reagan Administration refuses to talk to Managua. It insists that the Sandinistas settle with the leaders of what it calls a home-grown Contra insurgency.

Neither Nicaraguan faction indicated an immediate willingness to soften its stance, dimming chances for a truce by mid-January, when the five Central American presidents are to review their Aug. 7 peace accord.

Victor Hugo Tinoco, Nicaragua's deputy foreign minister, said the rebels first agreed to meet face-to-face here with the Sandinistas' appointed negotiators but then reneged as Congress neared approval of the $8.1-million Contra aid package that it passed early Tuesday.

'Orders Changed'

"Their position became inflexible as a reflection of the aid approval," he said. "That is the only explanation for why they accepted this proposal and then said no. Their orders from Washington changed."

In fact, rebel leaders raised no public objection last week when Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced that his government would be represented at the peace table by "foreign advisers."

The foreigners--Hans Jurgen Wischnewski, a leader of West Germany's Social Democratic Party, and Paul S. Reichler, a Washington lawyer who represents the Managua government--arrived here last weekend expecting to meet with rebel military specialists.

Jaime Morales, the chief rebel negotiator, acknowledged Tuesday that the rebels have accepted Cardinal Obando's call for direct negotiations without conditions. But he claimed he was "greatly surprised" upon learning Monday night that the foreigners were to be the only Sandinista negotiators.

"That was a radical change of the rules of the game."

Morales said there were practical reasons for the rebel stand. "How can anyone but a Sandinista military specialist decide where to draw cease-fire boundaries?"

The Sandinistas' negotiators joined in accusing the rebels of seeking to prolong the war.

"The Contras missed a golden opportunity to negotiate a cease-fire," Reichler said. "We were given a lot of flexibility to make concessions that would be binding on the Sandinistas."

After the talks broke down, Reichler and Wischnewski outlined the prepared concessions to Obando. Tinoco said they included a willingness to expand the cease-fire zones allotted to the rebels in Managua's initial truce proposal. Aides to the cardinal said they would study the revised Sandinista proposal and offer their own ideas in the next round of talks.

The government proposed a new meeting Jan. 7. The Contras said they would meet whenever the cardinal proposes.

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