All is quiet on cease-fire front as Sandinista troops lay down their arms. To comply with the regional peace plan, Nicaragua has begun a partial cease-fire. The Sandinistas hope to draw contra foot soldiers into negotiating. But the effort is off to a shaky start. Local groups formed to carry out the amnesty are wary of both sides.
``This cease-fire is good; let's hope it puts an end to the iniquity here.'' Miguel Bellorin emerged from his cornfield Wednesday morning, and heard only birds and crickets. ``Today it's quiet,'' he said approvingly. ``Let's see what comes of it.''
Mr. Bellorin, accustomed to the sound of gunfire and artillery, lives in one of the three small areas of Nicaragua where the Sandinista Army declared cease-fires Tuesday midnight, in the hope that contra rebels there might lay down their arms.
Announcing the move last week, President Daniel Ortega Saavedra said his troops would stay out of three hard-fought parts of the country for 30 days, in partial compliance with Central America's new peace plan. The plan requires the government to ``take all necessary actions to achieve an effective cease-fire'' before Nov. 5.
But contra leaders, angry that Managua declared a unilateral cease-fire instead of negotiating one with them, denounced the plan as a sham, and warned they will not respect it.
So Bellorin and his neighbors in the hills north of this small farming town are wary of raising their hopes for peace too high.
Around the perimeter of the 370-square-mile cease-fire zone near Quilal'i, some 2,500 Sandinista troops gathered at designated sites Tuesday evening, and looked forward to a month without slogging through the hills on patrol. ``We will just be waiting for [the contras] to lay down their arms,'' explained Byron Montoya, a frontier patrolman. ``We will only be defensive. If they don't attack anything, we won't move from here.''
Though the Sandinistas' regional military commander, Lt. Col. Antenor Rosales, said he expects the rebels to airdrop supplies into the zones, the areas are too small to be of much military value to the contras.
``They will come in either to rest or to negotiate with us'' said Quilal'i Army chief William Montalvan. Indeed, the partial cease-fire's central purpose is to create secure zones where contra troops can discuss ending their struggle, Sandinista officials and independent observers say. Since five Central American presidents signed their pact on Aug. 7, only 150 rebels have handed themselves in, according to the Red Cross.
``These are not cease-fire zones so much as negotiating zones,'' said one foreign military analyst. But just who will negotiate with the rebels, is proving an awkward question in Quilal'i, as members of local peace commissions made clear at a meeting in the community hall Tuesday. Sandinista authorities around the country last month asked local notables to form peace commissions to carry out the amnesty that the government has offered to the rebels.
But commission members here are afraid to seek out rebels to discuss the cease-fire and amnesty with them, in the face of contra threats.
Only 14 of about 80 commission members from the Quilal'i region showed up for the Tuesday meeting, and none seemed keen to go into the cease-fire zone the next day to look for the contras. Indalia Vilchez, an alternate member of Quilal'i's peace group, said a contra field commander recently told her, ``If I had anything to do with the commission, I should get ready to be kidnapped.''
Radio Liberacion, the contra radio, has warned anyone caught proselytizing for amnesty will be taken to rebel camps in Honduras, peace commission members in this area said.
The local peace groups - none of which in this area include anyone identified with the Sandinista Front - are also mistrustful of the government's intentions, reflecting widespread resentment against the Sandinistas in this region of prosperous small farmers.
``There is an attitude of fear and mistrust,'' acknowledges the area's top Sandinista official, Carlos Morales. That the local ``peace commissions'' are made up of non-Sandinistas ``is not coincidental,'' he adds.
The widest grievance against the government here, voiced repeatedly at Tuesday's meeting with representatives of the departmental reconciliation commission, is the number of local men jailed for allegedly aiding the contras. Freeing those prisoners is ``the first peace, the principal basis'' for any deal with contras, said Gregorio Cruz, a peasant farmer living in the cease-fire zone.
But the government has not yet announced who will be included in the amnesty called for by the peace plan.
While the Roman Catholic Church and several opposition parties are demanding a total amnesty - releasing all the estimated 4,000 political prisoners, including members of former dictator Anastasio Somoza's feared National Guard - different Sandinista leaders have given different impressions of how wide the amnesty will be.
The church has also expressed dissatisfaction with the government's approach to the cease-fire, accusing it of not fostering ``an authentic search for a total cease-fire agreed between the belligerent parties.''
But the Sandinistas have said repeatedly they will not negotiate with the contra leadership. The local unilateral cease-fires, offering an opportunity for peace talks with local rebel field commanders, are clearly modeled on the government's successful policy on the Atlantic coast. There, the authorities have negotiated a series of piecemeal deals with individual guerrilla chiefs in the Miskito Indian rebel movement.
Even if the government wins such a victory here, with the better disciplined rebels of the Nicaraguan Democratic Front, officials expect it to take time. ``This is a peace process,'' Morales explains. ``We don't expect a massive laying down of arms in a few weeks.''