MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- The government of President Violeta Chamorro spurred negotiations with armed bands yesterday in an effort to pacify Nicaragua on the eve of a visit by U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
A peaceful Nicaragua is a must for continued U.S. aid. Mr. Baker, who arrives for a five-hour visit today, stressed the need for peace last November after rioting by Sandinista Front militants caused millions of dollars of damage to public property.
Interior Minister Carlos Hurtado traveled to northern Nicaragua yesterday to talk to former Sandinista soldiers who have taken up arms in the countryside.
Much of the Sandinista rearming has been in response to rearming by the former contras, who say the government failed to deliver on promises of jobs and other help in returning them to civilian life.
On Monday, Mr. Hurtado obtained an indefinite truce from an especially recalcitrant former contra leader, Jose Angel Moran Flores, known as Commander Indomable (Untamable). On Wednesday, four other commanders agreed to disarm.
In exchange, Mr. Hurtado promised to legalize ownership of properties given to the former contras and to return other properties seized by the Sandinistas -- promises the government made to the contras when they demobilized in 1990.
Mrs. Chamorro took office in April 1990 after beating Sandinista President Daniel Ortega Saavedra in elections. The contras began disarming in May, ending nearly nine years of civil war.
So strong is the government's desire to present a happy Nicaraguan family to Mr. Baker that on Wednesday the U.S. military attache, Lt. Col. Dennis Quinn, was decorated with the Camilo Ortega medal, the highest honor awarded by the Sandinista People's Army.
Some officials of the former Sandinista government denounced the action. Moises Hassan, who was in the first government after the Sandinistas seized power in 1979, termed it "a show of incredible servility."
The medal is named for Camilo Ortega, a brother of Gen. Humberto Ortega, the army chief who presented the award, and of former President Ortega. Camilo Ortega died in the Sandinista rebellion against dictator Anastasio Somoza.