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Central American peace plan generates optimism in Nicaragua. Ortega's promises for civil liberties surprise opponents

Many Nicaraguans are optimistic that the Central American peace agreement signed in Guatemala a week ago will give them respite from the six-year-old war. ``Most people feel calmer and more secure because of the agreement [signed by five of the region's Presidents],'' a professor at the Catholic University in Managua said.

But Nicaraguan political opposition parties have been taken aback by the agreement and the commitments made by President Daniel Ortega Saavedra to restore civil liberties and introduce democratic procedures.

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The representatives of the political parties were invited to a meeting with President Ortega on Tuesday.

There, the President invited them, and one of his most powerful opponent, Miguel Cardinal Obando y Bravo, to nominate their candidates for the Committee for National Reconciliation.

The committee's job will be to insure that the regional peace agreement signed on Aug. 7 is complied with.

The opposition parties feel they have to go along with the agreement, but in the words of a European diplomat they are ``floundering.''

Mr. Ortega further surprised his political opposition by extending the possibility that Radio Catolica, the now-banned Roman Catholic Church radio station, would be reopened, and that there would also be changes in the laws governing political activity.

But the problems that Nicaragua's Sandinista government may face by complying with the peace agreement and giving the opposition more freedom were shown by the demands of Erick Ram'irez, leader of the Social Christian Party. He demanded that the state of emergency be lifted immediately, and that Radio Catolica and La Prensa, the main opposition newspaper, be reopened.

The day after meeting with the opposition leaders, Ortega left for Cuba, where he was expected to meet with President Fidel Castro.

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Ortega said the Guatemalan and Costa Rican Presidents were fully aware of his appointment in Havana, and that they were supportive.

(Nicaragua, in its war against the contra rebels and what it has called the threat of a US invasion, has built the largest and most powerful army in Central America with the assistance of Cuba and the Soviet Union.)

Before his departure Wednesday to Havana, Ortega said, ``Nicaragua will work for the withdrawal from Central America of all advisers and foreign troops as well as the elimination of military bases and the ending of maneuvers in the [Central America] isthmus.''

Diplomats here said they believed this issue is not covered by the peace agreement and that it will have to be resolved by direct negotiations between Washington and Managua.

The thrust of the Sandinista approach has been to identify the United States as the crucial obstacle to the success of the peace plan.

In a televised address Saturday, Ortega said that in the face of agreement among the Central American countries and support for their plan from the international community, only the US insisted on a military solution. He warned that Nicaragua was obliged to maintain its defensive capabilities.

``We are obliged to fulfill all our plans for defense, that is, demobilization of our combatants for military service to continue to strike at the mercenary forces, to continue to annihilate them.''

Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto wrote Wednesday to US Secretary of State George Shultz, calling on the US government to immediately suspend aid to the Nicaraguan rebels.

Mr. D'Escoto wrote that the US should show the same faith in the political process as Nicaragua had.

``The continuation of your policy of organizing, financing, and directing the mercenaries to attack our people constitutes the principal obstacle to the regional peace process.''

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