Negotiations to begin with ex-Contras

Yakobochi at Yakobochi at
Thu Jun 20 12:55:18 MDT 1996

  By David Koop

    MANAGUA, Nicaragua, (Reuter) - Mediators arrived in northern
Nicaragua Thursday to begin negotiating the release of a group of
election workers kidnapped by an armed gang and spirited across the
border to Honduras, a spokesman for Nicaragua's highest election body said.

    ``Contact is being made with the kidnappers who are holding the 31
officials, and hopefully the hostages will be released today,'' Supreme
Electoral Council (CSE) spokesman Cyril Omeir told Reuters.

    The negotiating team will include members of the Organization of
American States peace monitoring mission in Nicaragua, CSE and government
officials and Catholic Church representatives, Omeir said.

    Reports differ on the number of hostages being held. While the CSE
put the number at 31 -- 28 election officials and three Agriculture
Ministry officials -- the army says there are 51. The military is
investigating the difference, army spokesman Capt. Milton Sandoval told

    All the victims are apparently Nicaraguan citizens.

    A heavily armed group kidnapped the election workers Wednesday as
they carried voter registration materials from a remote area near the
Honduras border to the provincial capital of Jinotega, the army said.

    The electoral workers are being held on the Honduran side of
Nicaragua's northern border, 280 miles north of Managua, by 15 armed men.
Their leader is a rebel known as ``El Licenciado'' (''The Graduate''),
Sandoval said.

    The gang, descended from the U.S.-backed Contra fighters who fought
the leftist Sandinista government in the 1980s, was demanding the
Nicaraguan army's withdrawal from the area they control, he said.

    This is the second kidnapping by armed groups in northern Nicaragua
in the run-up to Oct. 20 presidential elections. On May 31, an armed
group linked to the ex-Contras kidnapped U.S. electoral observer Cindy
Gersony. She was released unharmed the following day.

    The Nicaraguan government was trying to register voters in remote
areas in the northern region, where armed groups had threatened to
disrupt the elections. It will mark the first time in Nicaraguan history
that one elected civilian government peacefully hands over power to another.

    The army estimates that 69 armed groups operate in Nicaragua with 488
men, Garcia said.

    In Honduras, authorities close to the border said Wednesday they were
aware of the incursion.

14:11 06-20-96

--Kelso E. Sturgeon III

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