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Hostage Standoff in Costa Rica Is Sign of Nicaraguan Discontent

Group demands Sandinista official steps down and $6 million

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IN a sign of the simmering turmoil in neighboring Nicaragua, a group of kidnappers continued to hold 18 people hostage at Nicaragua's embassy here yesterday.

"It's a symptom of the great frustration and discontent felt by the people of Nicaragua," says Oscar Arias Sanchez, former president of Costa Rica and the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. "The hopes and expectations brought on by the end of the civil war have not been fulfilled. And a people who have endured decades of dictatorships and violence find it hard to learn democracy in a few days," he adds.

Ironically, the hostage-takers have chosen Latin America's oldest democracy as a venue to vent their discontent.

On Monday, three people - calling themselves the "Patriots, Politicians, and Militants of Yolaina" - took over the Nicaraguan Embassy in San Jose. Armed with submachine guns and dressed in army fatigues, dark caps, and red bandana masks, the presumed Nicaraguan dissidents took 18 hostages, including Nicaraguan Ambassador Alfonso Robelo, without firing a shot.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo flew in from Nicaragua on Tuesday, at the kidnappers request, to mediate.

The dissident group's demands include:

* The dismissal of Nicaraguan Army chief Humberto Ortega Saavedra and presidential minister Antonio Lacayo.

* $5 million to be given to the Catholic Church for food, land, and medical care for ex-rebels and handicapped veterans of Nicaragua's civil war, which ended shortly before the election of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990.

* $1 million to fund the kidnappers' anti-Sandinista movement.

Nicaraguan officials flatly rejected the demands. Cardinal Obando y Bravo entered the Embassy twice on Tuesday to talk with the kidnappers. He said they rejected his offer of immunity if they give up and return to Nicaragua. An offer of asylum in Venezuela was also rejected by the abductors.

"We are not delinquents. We are young idealists who want the best for Nicaragua," the group leader, Jose Manuel Urbina Lara, told a local television station in a telephone interview.

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