For Nicaraguans, the Civil War Never Ended

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`NICARAGUANS know all about war,'' says Rodolfo. ``I don't think we need to know any more.'' The taxi driver has one son who has already completed his two-year hitch in the Army. Another son will be eligible for the draft soon.

His attitude is fairly typical of others in this country. Rodolfo is worried, as are most Nicaraguans, now that President Daniel Ortega Saavedra announced the war is officially rejoined.

But the worry is mainly that an offensive will be launched with the truce lapsed, and that generalized warfare will resume. For the war here has never stopped since the Sandinistas and contra rebels signed a pact March 1988.

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In 19 months of a ``cessation of all offensive operations,'' 733 Sandinista soldiers and Nicaraguan civilians have been killed in contra attacks, Mr. Ortega says - nearly 40 a month. Though not as devastating as the monthly average of more than 400 at the height of the war, Nicaraguans who live in the war zones know the firing has never ceased.

Since the cease-fire began, the Sandinista Army, too, has been ``running the contras ragged,'' as one Western diplomat put it, in small skirmishes around the country.

Outrage in the government and its supportive news media was rekindled by a contra ambush on Oct. 21 in which 17 Army reservists were killed. That death toll was half of the previous three-weeks' casualties.

The Sandinista newspaper and government radio - harbingers of official leanings - have given wide coverage to the ambush. The official Voice of Nicaragua broadcasts calls by its listeners to end the truce.

But for Lidya Chavez, Ortega's decision to end the cease-fire has little to do with regional plan's, elections, or Washington politics. She has two sons in the Army, both of whom were drafted after the cease-fire began. She said she cried in her apron when they left. ``Cease-fire? Cease-fire? That doesn't mean anything to a mother.''

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