Sandinistas' reported bombing of coast shatters fragile peace

A year after Nicaragua's Sandinista government began its most ambitious effort to bring peace to the country's Atlantic Coast, the region is sinking into violence. Last month government forces bombed a coastal village in what anti-Sandinista rebels said was an attempt to kill one of their principal leaders.

The Sandinistas said they were trying to rout out Miskito Indian rebels who were disrupting peace negotiations between Sandinista officers and local Miskito commanders.

Three North American Indian activists who visited the area recently reportedly claim that the Sandinistas have been bombing villages on the Atlantic Coast.

Last year the government made strong efforts to pacify the region, one of the government's most troublesome war zones. Along with an autonomy plan, the Sandinistas allowed resettled Indians to return home last spring.

Last spring, leaders of a 400-man guerrilla Miskito faction signed a cease-fire accord with the government. Most other Miskito factions stopped fighting in an informal truce.

The deep distrust between the Indians and Sandinistas, based partly on historical racial tension, has impeded the government's autonomy plan. The bombings have ended the fragile peace.

``It is a situation of chaos,'' said Armstrong Wiggins, a spokesman for Brooklyn Rivera, leader of the Misurasata Indian Rebel Organization.

Misurasata and the other major Miskito rebel group, Kisan, formerly known as Misura, have been fighting the Sandinista government since 1981.

On Jan. 3, Brooklyn Rivera entered Nicaragua through Costa Rica with American Indian activists, Russell Means and Hank Adams, and Clem Chartier from the World Council of Indigenous People, and an American free-lance journalist. The group toured coastal villages to consult with residents about negotiations between the Sandinistas and guerrillas, Mr. Wiggins said.

On Jan. 21, government forces bombed the town of Layasiksa, which the group had been visiting.

``In view of the fact that Brooklyn is considered the maximum leader on the coast -- even for us -- the Sandinistas, I am afraid, are trying to kill him,'' said a Kisan troop commander interviewed in Puerto Cabezas.

Residents said one civilian, a young boy, was killed. They said a few others were wounded and that the town's 75 families fled for 10 days.

``The bombing was a very grave mistake,'' said Renaldo Reyes, a Kisan commander who agreed to the cease-fire and has been in talks with Sandinista officers and Interior Minister Tom'as Borge Mart'inez. ``We are reevaluating the treaty; if they continue with provocations, there might be battles again.''

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