GUATEMALA CITY, FEB. 18 -- Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo sought to break an impasse in a new round of truce talks today between the Sandinista government and the rebels, proposing that the government revise its military draft law.
The cardinal's proposal brought unexpected forward movement in the second round of face-to-face talks under the terms of a six-month-old regional peace process. The first round took place before the House of Representatives voted Feb. 3 against new military aid for the rebels, or contras -- a move contra leaders say will force them gradually to wind down their fighting.
Jaime Morales, the top negotiator for the Nicaraguan Resistance, the contra alliance, said his side accepted the cardinal's proposal "in principle." Sandinista Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Hugo Tinoco called it "constructive and positive" but asked for clarification of the proposed means of assuring a truce.
The cardinal's proposal was brief and general, and neither side seemed certain what it would entail.
In a statement to the press at the 8 p.m. close of the first day of talks, Obando said they bogged down in a debate over the term "cease-fire." Arguing that "time is gold," the cardinal offered his own plan calling on the Sandinista government to free all political prisoners, allow complete freedom of expression, resume a stalled dialogue with the opposition political parties and "reconsider" a 4-year-old compulsory draft law.
Obando called on the contras to concentrate their forces in cease-fire zones for a 30-day truce while negotiations about further democratization would continue. The current talks are scheduled to continue two more days.
Obando's first three requirements on the Nicaraguan government also are contained in the Aug. 7 peace plan signed by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and the four other Central American presidents. The obligatory draft has sparked political tension in Nicaragua recently, especially in the city of Masaya, where a Sandinista draft drive ignited riots last week.
The Sandinistas call on the contras to lay down their arms, while the contras seek a broad democratization before they renounce warfare and return to civilian life.