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Sandinistas Kidnap Vice President, Others : Nicaragua: The leftist hostage-takers in the capital demand rightist Contra rebels in the north free government officials and others seized earlier.

August 21, 1993|From Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Heavily armed Sandinista supporters seized Nicaragua's vice president and more than 30 other opposition leaders on Friday and said they wouldn't be freed until former Contra rebels release dozens of hostages seized in the north.

A man who identified himself as Commander Cuarenta, or Commander Forty, went on Sandinista Radio Ya late Friday and declared the hostage-taking as gunshots were heard in the background.

The man, who shouted and sounded incoherent at times, said the gunmen would not harm the leaders of the National Opposition Union, seized at their headquarters near Managua's city center.

"We are going to respect the physical safety" of the Managua hostages, the man said.

But he demanded that rearmed Contra rebels, who took at least 38 government officials, lawmakers and military officers captive in northern Nicaragua on Thursday and Friday, free all their hostages before the UNO leaders would be let go.

The man called for Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, a frequent negotiator in such crises, to seek the release of the Contras' hostages.

Police began moving into the Managua neighborhood where the UNO hostages were taken. The hostages included Vice President Virgilio Godoy, who has split with President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, and Alfredo Cesar, a UNO deputy and former president of the National Assembly.

UNO, a broad-based coalition of business and civic groups, was the driving force behind Chamorro's 1990 upset victory over the leftist Sandinistas, who had ruled Nicaragua for over a decade amid civil war against the rightist Contras.

UNO later broke ranks with Chamorro because she included the Sandinistas in the government in a bid to bring harmony to the nation.

The war between the U.S.-backed rightist Contras and the leftist Sandinista government in the 1980s ended in 1990 when Chamorro, a moderate, defeated the Sandinistas at the polls.

But both Contras and demobilized Sandinistas have rearmed in recent months and staged attacks on the government, angered by its failure to provide land and money to former fighters.

The hostages in Managua said over Radio Ya that at least 34 UNO leaders were seized. Despite the occasional sounds of gunfire, perhaps fired from outside UNO headquarters, hostages who went on Radio Ya declared that the captives were not being abused.

Hostage Reynaldo Hernandez was put on the air by the kidnapers to urge authorities not to take any imprudent steps.

The hostage said the kidnapers had put him on the phone with an order for police to stay at least 250 yards from UNO headquarters.

Hernandez said the men stormed the headquarters armed with grenades and rifles about 7:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. PDT) and had planted explosives around it.

In northern Nicaragua, Contra rebels reportedly seized five more military officers late Friday, bringing to 38 the number of hostages they have taken. Government troops converged on the area.

The hostage-takers in northern Nicaragua have demanded the resignation of two key government officials--presidential aide Antonio Lacayo and army chief Gen. Humberto Ortega--but Chamorro has refused.

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