Latin observers get mixed reports on Sandinista peace efforts

An international diplomatic team left Managua on Wednesday, its collective head ringing with widely divergent accounts of the Sandinista government's performance under Central America's peace pact. For two days, the International Verification and Follow-up Commission (CIVS) had held court in the Intercontinental Hotel, seeking to check how far Managua has kept its promises under the plan.

Trade unionists, political leaders, human rights activists, and journalists, all took their turn to praise or damn the government. Their briefcases bulging with reports, declarations, and notes, the 30 commission members moved yesterday to Guatemala, where they will repeat the process before visiting El Salvador and Honduras. They began their Central American tour in Costa Rica on Monday.

Created by five Central American Presidents when they signed a peace pact last Aug. 7, the CIVS was designed as an independent body to assess which country had lived up to its commitments and which had not.

The leaders pledged to meet five key goals: democratization, cease-fires, amnesties for political prisoners, a halt outside aid for rebel forces, and preventing such forces from using their territory. Currently touring Central America to judge progress toward those aims are senior officials from the United Nations, the Organization of American States, eight Latin American nations, and five the Central American countries themselves.

The CIVS's plans to start work last November - installing inspection teams throughout the region - collapsed in the face of opposition from Honduras, according to a confidential report by a technical mission which toured the region twice last year. Honduras, which is known to harbor US-backed Nicaraguan contra rebels on its territory, refused to allow the CIVS to carry out any inspections in the near future, the mission reported.

With verification of the peace plan's military aspects thus impossible, ``security elements are not the main object of this mission,'' a CIVS member explained.

Though the CIVS is asking government officials about security issues, it is concentrating on political questions such as democratization and amnesties.

In Nicaragua, the wide range of opinions on how much the Sandinistas have done was reflected in the CIVS first meeting, with the National Reconciliation Commission (CNR). The CNR was unable to agree on a joint report. Instead, the four members offered individual opinions on the current situation.

In later meetings, spokesmen for various organizations elaborated on those opinions. Anti-Sandinista trade union leaders stressed the limitations on workers' rights; pro-government trade unionists defended the continuing state of emergency.

A human rights group linked to the opposition emphasized the Sandinistas' refusal to grant a full amnesty; another rights group, close to the government, pointed out that nearly 1,000 prisoners have been freed, and that the President has promised to release the rest when the US stops aid to the rebels.

Fourteen opposition parties blamed ``Sandinista intransigence'' for the breakdown of a ``national dialogue.'' The Sandinistas blamed the opposition.

The CIVS is reserving judgement for its report to a foreign ministers' meeting next week. But it is already clear, a CIVS official said privately, that ``in none of the countries has there been full compliance.''

The commission, he added, faces ``two key challenges: to give the peace process a booster, and not to whitewash issues that shouldn't be whitewashed.''

Meanwhile, trouble appears to be brewing within the CIVS itself, where the Central American countries' mutual antagonisms are reportedly frustrating other commission members.

``There is a general feeling among the non-Central Americans on the commission,'' the official said, ``that we are not going to continue with this exercise beyond the summit on Jan. 15 unless we are made autonomous from the Central Americans. Otherwise it's impossible.''

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