MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The Defense Ministry accused Contra forces Friday of breaking a Christmas cease-fire with seven raids and trying to provoke the government to violate the truce.
The U.S.-backed rebels denied the accusation and said their fighters were respecting the two-day truce, the first in the six-year civil war.
The Defense Ministry said rebels staged four attacks Thursday in the first nine hours of the start of the truce. Witnesses and state-run and opposition media reported fighting in other areas the same day.
The ministry said three more Contra raids occurred Friday. It said there were no casualties in attacks on Sandinista troops near Rama in eastern Nicaragua and on troops outside Rio Blanco in the central part of the country. It said three rebels were killed after a Contra unit attacked a farming cooperative near Muan in central Nicaragua.
The Contras have said the government-run cooperatives, heavily armed by civilians, are legitimate military targets.
At midnight Wednesday, the ministry said, Contras attacked the town of Colonia San Jose in the northeastern province of Zelaya. One militiaman and five rebels were killed in fighting, it said.
In the next seven hours, the ministry said, Contras opened fire on Sandinista troops at La Ceiba in central Nicaragua, and fired on the Santa Rita farming cooperative near San Jose de Bocay in northern Jinotega province. It said there were no casualties in either raid.
Also in Jinotega province, rebels opened fire on Sandinista militiamen at 9 a.m. Thursday near the town of Cano Las Crucitas, and two rebels and two militiamen were killed in the fighting, it said.
Battle Near Key Road
State-run Radio Revolucion said Contra and Sandinista troops battled near the eastern cities of Rama and Muelle de los Bueyes close to the strategic Rama Road. The thoroughfare is the major east-west route used to transport weaponry and food.
The radio reported three Contras slain and two wounded in the battles. It also said the rebels blew up electric posts along the Rama Road, blacking out several areas.
The opposition newspaper La Prensa said in its Thursday night edition that heavy fighting was reported in the northern province of Madriz, "brutally breaking the awaited Christmas truce for this region."
"They're trying to provoke the (Sandinista) troops," said a Defense Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Washington, Bosco Matamoros, a spokesman for the Contras, who call themselves the Nicaraguan Resistance, denied the reports.
"We have not conducted any operation. We are respecting rigorously the truce called by Cardinal Obando," he said, referring to Nicaragua's Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, the mediator in talks to work out a cease-fire. "We are conducting only defensive operations."