Nicaraguan opposition hopes to bridge differences and issue unity document

The main leaders of Nicaragua's long-feuding anti-Sandinista exile groups hope to issue a joint proposal to the ruling Sandinistas by the end of February. The proposal would be a first step toward eventual unification of the opposition, bringing together such divergent elements as the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, a Honduras-based contra organization, and the liberal, exiled opposition leader Arturo Cruz Porras.

The proposal itself will, according to Nicaraguan exile sources, be a list of fairly hard-line conditions that the Nicaraguan opposition sees as ``minimum'' for reaching an agreement with the government. Since the Sandinistas are unlikely to accept the conditions, analysts in the region say, the proposal will probably be the basis for stepped-up military and political activities against the Sandinistas by a united opposition.

However, it is not yet clear whether the document will be signed by Ed'en Pastora G'omez, one of the top four opposition leaders involved in the original unification talks. On Feb. 6, Mr. Pastora pulled back from the unification effort, saying his priority is to press on with a military campaign against the government. The unity effort, in contrast, is publicly described as a political step -- one that is ultimately designed to present some sort of peace proposal to the Sandinistas.

Close observers think Pastora eventually will come back to the group, out of desire not to be left out in the cold.

The declaration of principles, originally to be announced in mid-February, was also temporarily held up because Costa Rica had asked the Nicaraguan opposition not to make any major declarations from Costa Rican territory. The country did not want to jeopardize its talks with Nicaragua aimed at resolving the conflict between the two nations.

Moreover, it is not at all clear the opposition leaders will agree on the goals for the group over the long haul.

Civilian opposition leader Cruz emphasizes that only a joint ``peace ultimatum'' to the Sandinistas is being considered now. But sources close to Cruz, who is valuable to the group in terms of international respectability, say he faces a serious dilemma: whether or not to insist that followers of the last Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle, be excluded from important positions within any new unity organization. Several of Cruz's close associates say he will insist on this.

For a long time, Cruz was reluctant to take any unity step with the contras because former Somoza followers are in leadership positions in the contra group.

But people close to Cruz say he has come to believe that if it were not for the threat posed by the contras, the Sandinista government would be more radical and unwilling to make any concessions. For this reason, they say, Cruz has publicly supported US aid to the contras.

Even if Pastora does not rejoin the unity effort, the group can carry on, some of those involved say. Pastora's troop strength is not that significant. Pastora claims to have 7,000 men but others estimate his troops strength in the hundreds.

One of Pastora's main problems with the unity effort, several top opposition sources say, stems from a dispute between Pastora and Alfonso Robelo, who were joint leaders of the armed opposition group Democratic Revolutionary Alliance (ARDE). ARDE possessed several airplanes that are stationed in El Salvador.

According to the informal separation agreement, Pastora was to keep the planes. But Pastora now charges, opposition sources say, that he was not given all of the planes. He also states that Robelo kept much of the other military equipment and munitions owed to Pastora.

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