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Second Round of Nicaragua Talks Planned

January 31, 1988|Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Nicaraguan government and Contra rebel negotiators ended their first direct peace talks Friday and agreed tentatively to resume their bargaining Feb. 10-12 in Guatemala, their mediator said.

Roman Catholic Msgr. Bosco Vivas announced the next session at the end of two days of talks in San Jose, which he said were conducted in "a climate of much sincerity and respect."

Vivas noted, however, that the date for the meeting was subject to approval by Managua Archbishop Miguel Obando y Bravo, who was unable to mediate the San Jose talks because of a trip to the Vatican. Vivas is the auxiliary archbishop of Managua, the Nicaraguan capital.

Each side had done little more than present opening positions during Thursday's 3-hour session.

The Nicaraguan government representatives said they wanted to limit the talks to the mechanics of a cease-fire. The U.S.-supported Contras demanded discussions on what they contend are the social and political causes of the war, which has killed an estimated 40,000 people since it began in November, 1981.

"We understand there's a great deal of mistrust here," said Paul Reichler, a Washington attorney acting as a technical adviser to the Nicaraguan negotiating team.

Riding on the negotiations is the fate of a $36.25-million Contra aid request submitted to the U.S. Congress by President Reagan on Wednesday.

The White House is anticipating a narrow vote this week on the proposal. Chief White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater has acknowledged that defeat would spell the end for the Contras.

The Sandinistas offered a slightly revised version of a negotiating position first outlined by President Daniel Ortega during a visit to Washington on Nov. 13. That proposal called for a cease-fire from March 15 to April 15.

On Thursday, the government said its army would halt offensive operations March 1 to give the Contras time to move into three cease-fire zones in northern, central and southern Nicaragua covering about 4,500 square miles.

Inside the zones, the Contras would be permitted to retain their arms and to receive food, medicine, clothing and other humanitarian supplies from the International Red Cross or any other recognized international relief agency.

At the end of the cease-fire period, the Contras would be expected to hand over their arms to an international commission, accept an amnesty and return to civilian life with full constitutional guarantees.

Constitution Changes Sought

For their part, the Contras asked the government to agree to 17 changes in Nicaragua's Constitution, as first proposed several months ago by the internal opposition in talks with the Sandinistas.

The Contras also asked that the truce talks be expanded to include the internal opposition, largely represented by a coalition of business, labor and political groups known as the Democratic Coordinating Council. Victor Tinoco, head of the Sandinista negotiating team, rejected that.

The constitutional changes sought by both the internal opposition and the Contras include electoral reforms, a "clarification" of property rights, limits on presidential power, separation of the army from the governing Sandinista party, judicial independence and the creation of a tribunal to guarantee constitutional rights.

The cease-fire talks are taking place under the framework of a Central American peace plan signed by the presidents of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Costa Rica on Aug. 7.

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