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Peace Plan in Danger, Arias Says : Nicaragua Leader Sharply Rebuked for Foot-Dragging

January 15, 1988|RICHARD BOUDREAUX | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — President Oscar Arias Sanchez said Thursday that his Central American peace plan faces imminent collapse unless Nicaragua acts immediately to comply with its requirements for democratic reform.

On the eve of a regional summit to judge results of the five-nation peace accord he wrote, Arias said that U.S. aid to Nicaraguan rebels and the superpower rivalry in the region are also obstacles to cease-fires in its three guerrilla wars.

But Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for persuading his fellow presidents to adopt the peace plan, emphasized that "some of the Central American governments" are more to blame than outsiders. He focused most of his criticism on the Sandinista government in Managua.

Assails Ortega Remarks

Arias made public a strongly worded letter he sent Wednesday to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. It criticized recent statements by Ortega confirming plans to build a Soviet-equipped reserve army of nearly 500,000 men and declaring that the Sandinistas would never give up power even if they lost an election.

The letter also said there was no excuse for maintaining a state of emergency, press curbs and political prisoners in Nicaragua. The peace accord, signed Aug. 7, obliged the signatory nations to end such restrictions and to grant amnesties to political prisoners within 150 days.

"What I'm saying to Ortega in that letter is that if these things are not done now, right now, immediately, the consequence will be more war," Arias said in an interview.

With the pact's deadline already expired, Ortega, Arias and the three other presidents are to meet here today to decide the fate of their agreement. They are Jose Napoleon Duarte of El Salvador, Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo of Guatemala and Jose Azcona Hoyo of Honduras.

Case for U.S. Funding

The Reagan Administration is urging Nicaragua's four neighbors to declare the accord a failure, blame the failure on the Sandinistas and thus bolster the case for new U.S. funding for the anti-Sandinista Contras.

"We are going to make a superhuman effort (today) to remove all the obstacles to compliance," Arias said at a news conference. "I think this is the last opportunity if we want to comply because there are many people interested in burying this plan so that war will be the only further option."

The peace accord is deadlocked largely because Nicaragua has declined to grant an amnesty or lift emergency curbs on civil liberties until Honduras closes Contra military bases in its territory.

Honduras, the closest U.S. ally in the region, refuses to comply with the peace accord's prohibition on such assistance until the Sandinistas take further steps toward political reconciliation. The same dispute has frustrated cease-fire talks between the Sandinistas and the rebels.

Upon arriving here Thursday, Azcona reaffirmed Honduras' insistence that Nicaragua act first. He called for sanctions against Nicaragua if Ortega makes no commitment here to comply with the accord and said that, otherwise, he will oppose an extension of its deadline.

Duarte spoke in a similar tone before flying here Thursday from El Salvador, saying, "Nicaragua has not complied, and I'm going to say so." He added: "We are going to see if Ortega is a man of honor."

The three presidents' comments indicated that Ortega will be isolated at the summit, despite an international verification committee's report that cast a large share of criticism on El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for failing to live up to the accord.

Talks Broken Off

The Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments have broken off cease-fire talks with leftist guerrillas, and all three countries, as well as Nicaragua, were accused of human rights abuses in the report.

The report of the 13-nation verification panel, which includes the five Central American foreign ministers, also called a cutoff of U.S. aid to the Contras "an indispensable requirement" for peace efforts. The report was sent to the five presidents as a working document for their meeting.

However, Duarte and Azcona refused at separate news conferences here to endorse unconditionally a cutoff of Contra aid, even though the peace accord calls for ending all outside support for insurgencies.

Costa Rican officials said Arias wants to focus the summit on Nicaragua because he believes other nations have complied more fully with the accord. At his press conference, Arias noted that El Salvador, despite its guerrilla war, is planning municipal elections early this year. He challenged Nicaragua to hold its own elections.

'Burden Is on Ortega'

"The burden is on Ortega," said a Costa Rican diplomat. "If he doesn't take several dramatic steps and announce them tomorrow or the day after, then what he's actually saying is that I would rather fight the Contras than have a democracy."

Central American officials here believe the outcome of the first regional summit since the accord was signed will be determined largely by the interaction of the five leaders and the persuasiveness of Arias.

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