The breakdown of last week's cease-fire talks here between Nicaragua's Sandinista government and contra rebels does not mark the end of the road, participants from all sides are agreed. ``We appear to be at a stalemate,'' said Miguel Cardinal Obando y Bravo, who mediated in the two days of indirect negotiations. ``But there is a will to keep talking, and it is necessary to keep working. Both the government and [Nicaraguan] Resistance want peace.''
That peace, however, appears no closer after the seven hours of talks that Cardinal Obando y Bravo held separately with the two sides on Thursday and Friday. Even the temporary truces that the Cardinal proposed seem a remote possibility unless he can break the vicious circle into which this first round of negotiations fell.
With the initial Sandinista and rebel positions so far apart, Obando y Bravo sought to cut through their differences with a plan of his own. He proposed one truce next week to mark a religious holiday and another over Christmas, and suggested Managua should immediately pardon all political prisoners, lift the state of emergency, and allow full freedom of the press. The Sandinistas thus far have released 985 prisoners and lifted press censorship.
The Sandinistas rejected this proposal, which the contras accepted. The three conditions for a truce, said government delegation leader Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco, ``need to be complemented by two points that were forgotten:'' the contras should forswear United States aid and stop using Honduran territory.
The rebels said they would comply with those demands only if Managua agreed to democratize in line with the contras' cease-fire proposals, which challenged central tenants of the Sandinista system. ``The fundamental condition is democratization,'' spokesman Bosco Matamoros said after the meeting. ``The Sandinistas see a cease-fire as an end in itself, but for us it is only the means to an end through a process.''
Obando y Bravo's truce proposal, aimed at laying the base for negotiations on a permanent cease-fire, ran up against the Sandinistas' insistence that all parties comply simultaneously with Central America's peace plan.
When Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega Saavedra last month reversed his longstanding refusal to talk to the contras at all, he pledged to free all political prisoners and lift the state of emergency only when the contras were denied outside aid. The government team here would not allow the Cardinal to sidestep that policy.
Nor did the Sandinistas seem willing to heed another of Obando y Bravo's suggestions - that they sit down face-to-face with the contras. The procedure at the first round of talks, when the Cardinal transmitted each side's position to the other, was cumbersome, he complained, ``and is only delaying the negotiations.''
Mr. Tinoco later said Managua's position was ``very clear. The scheme agreed ... to arrange a cease-fire is an indirect scheme through Obando y Bravo.'' Dismissing the contra negotiating team as ``third-level representatives of the US administration,'' Tinoco blamed delays in the talks on the way ``the administration is trying to negotiate without showing its face.''
A new round of talks to break the deadlock is expected before Christmas, but it is unclear where they will be held. The contras want to meet in Central America; but Managua insists on meeting outside the region.