Miskito Indian Rebels Reluctantly Begin to Lay Down Their Arms
BILWASKARMA, NICARAGUA — HUNDREDS of Miskito Indian rebels are gradually disarming in two United Nations camps set up in Nicaragua's vast Atlantic coast region. Fatigue-clad rebels of the organization known as Yatama have arrived to demobilize at one camp located here on the Coco River border with Honduras. The camp is set up in the ruins of a once-thriving town destroyed when the Sandinistas forcibly evacuated close to 50 villages along the river in 1982.
Yatama leaders are not happy to be disarming, saying they believe the Sandinistas still control the armed forces. They also complain about the supplies each rebel receives from the international organizations overseeing the demobilization.
``What can a man do with a bag of rice and beans and only one set of clothes?'' asks Yatama commander Manuel Cunningham. ``I wonder if the men in suits and ties who decide on these rations live with just this. I wish they would come here and see the conditions that we face in this isolated area.''
The process has also been hampered by the difficult geography of the coast, a sparsely populated region of swamps, pine forests, tropical jungle, and few roads. Rebel leaders say it has taken weeks for some groups to hike to Bilwaskarma, which by rough road can only be reached by a heavy four-wheel-drive vehicle.
UN officials say that so far about 350 Yatama fighters have disarmed out of an estimated total of 900 combatants on the Atlantic coast.
The Yatama rebels are the last holdouts in a peace process which began in 1985 when Miskito commanders signed the first of several accords with the Sandinista government.
Unlike their counterparts on the Pacific side of Nicaragua, the Miskito rebels never claimed to be fighting to overthrow the Sandinistas. Rather, they rejected Sandinista interference in their affairs and have sought political autonomy for the vast coast region populated by diverse ethnic groups. Other groups ended their fight after the Sandinistas granted them control over parts of the coast region.