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Peasants tell of Sandinista abuse

By J.D. GannonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / September 9, 1988

Apantillo, Nicaragua

Alejandro Gonz'alez no longer lives on his farm near this settlement in the rugged mountains 125 miles north of Managua. Instead, Mr. Gonz'alez (not his real name) and his family live in a parish house in the town of San Ram'on because he fears for his life after being threatened by Sandinista State Security for speaking out about the murder of five men here on March 21.

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Eight sources interviewed here over the course of a week claimed to know the details of eight murders - the five men as well as three others - and a rape. The incidents appear to indicate a pattern of abuses by the Sandinista State Security and Army troops in the Matiguas region.

In interviews, Sandinista officials denied their troops are responsible for such crimes.

While the incidents investigated by the Monitor all occurred between Jan. 27 and and March 21 of this year, residents of the area say they continue to live in fear of State Security. These residents say no actions have been taken against the alleged perpetrators.

Indeed, although State Security has long had a villainous reputation among many Nicaraguans in the rural war zones, interviews with residents in the area and human rights reports suggest abuses by State Security in the Matiguas region are particularly egregious.

Fr. Richard Frank, for example, a Maryknoll missionary who has lived and traveled extensively in this area for six years, said in an interview last week: The ``problem seems to be in Matiguas.'' He charged that abuses by government forces began to rise in his parish of San Ram'on in 1984, when part of it was placed under the authority of the General Directorate for State Security headquartered in Matiguas. (It is known by its Spanish initials DGSE). Sandinista officials denied their troops have a policy of intimidating suspected rebel collaborators.

But the civilian sources said they had no doubt that the Army and State Security were behind the acts.

While the Sandinista government has been accused in the past of such abuses, it has also prosecuted soldiers for human rights abuses.

According to residents, all of whom but Fr. Frank asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal, the local population became suspected of being contra collaborators once the rebels began moving into the area in large numbers in late 1986.

``One [official] from DGSE told me that the contras could not have infiltrated into this area without the people's help,'' one resident said. ``And they think the collaborators are worse than the rebels'' because civilian supporters hide, feed, and pass information on Sandinista troop movements to the rebels.

``All of these people have had contact with the contras,'' said Fr. Frank. ``They have to'' because the contras were everywhere in the region before last March, when they began retreating to their Honduran base camps. This occurred shortly after US aid was cut off last spring. ``That makes [the Army] suspicious of everyone,'' he said, adding that contact with the contras does not mean collaboration.

Four of the sources who live here said several of those killed were lay workers in the parish with no political sympathies for either side. But they also said that many families have members in the contra ranks, and some have members in both armies.

The Sandinistas are resented by many because of their practice of tracking down draft-age youth. ``They come to the chapel during services and recruit'' for the draft, one resident complained bitterly.

The local residents, Fr. Frank, and human rights reports allege that between last January and March:

Five men were found dead and tortured one day after being detained, March 21, by a large group of Sandinista soldiers.

Cruz Castillo, a 65-year-old man, was detained on March 14 by troops from the La Patriota Army base near Apantillo. His body was found a week later with multiple stab wounds, and the body showed signs of torture.

Socorro Mejia Ramos, a 24-year-old man, was captured either March 11 or 12 by Sandinista troops. He was found dead four days later.

Carmensa P'erez Ortiz and her husband Julio left their home during a Sandinista-rebel fire-fight on Jan. 27. When they returned later that day, they found Sandinista troops in their home. The soldiers allegedly stole 1,800,000 cordobas (about $90), beat the husband and wife, and raped Carmensa while taking the two to the Army base.