Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nicaragua's Contras Disarm as Chamorro Plans Smaller Army

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Nicaragua's Contras Disarm as Chamorro Plans Smaller Army

Article excerpt

MORE than 100 field commanders of the Nicaraguan contra rebels disarmed in a public ceremony Wednesday - ending nearly a decade of warfare and United States efforts to oust the Sandinistas, and signaling a larger demobilization of the nation's Army.

Top rebel leader Israel Galeano, known as "Franklin," was among the last of nearly 19,000 contras who have surrendered their weapons since early May.

"We are honored to appear before the Nicaraguan people and say, `Mission accomplished,"' Galeano said at the ceremony attended by President Violeta Chamorro in this village in central Nicaragua.

Mrs. Chamorro praised the end of the disarmament process, and said the next phase in "true national reconciliation" will begin with the reduction in the size of the Sandinista armed forces. "The Sandinista military will gradually demobilize too, if possible, so that we can have just a small police force as in Costa Rica," she declared to cheering spectators in this village, which has long supported the contras' anti-Sandinista cause.

Several weeks ago Chamorro announced a plan to reduce the armed forces by August to under 41,000 soldiers, down from a total of 96,660 in January. Thousands of drafted soldiers left the Army after the Sandinista election defeat in February. The ranks thinned even more when Chamorro abolished the compulsory draft, bringing the current total to approximately 60,000, according to Army Gen. Humberto Ortega. After her April 25 inauguration, Chamorro asked General Ortega, brother of ex-President Daniel Ortega, to remain as head of the armed forces to oversee the Army cuts in a decision that drew heavy criticism. The contras even threatened to renege on a plan to disarm unless Ortega stepped down.

But Chamorro was able to persuade the rebels by assuring them she had the authority to direct Humberto Ortega to reduce the Army ranks. Chamorro administration officials say that Mr. Ortega, one of the most visible of Sandinista leaders, will stay at least as long as necessary to carry out the plan. …

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