Nine years of civil war that took 30,000 lives appeared near an end Thursday when Contra guerrillas, leftist Sandinistas and the incoming government agreed to a truce and a deadline for the rebels to disarm.
``With this accord we conclude the peace process that started with the elections,' said Antonio Lacayo, senior negotiator for President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, after the agreement was read at a dawn news conference.The accord sets a cease-fire that began at noon Thursday, the withdrawal of Sandinista military forces at least 12 miles from the borders of five security zones that is to be completed by Saturday and the immediate gathering of all Contra fighters within the zones. About 9,000 Contras fighters are in Nicaragua.
An addendum said the Contras will start turning in their weapons in the after noon of April 25, after Chamorro takes office from President Daniel Ortega, and the Contra fighting force is to be disbanded completely by June 10.
Missions from the United Nations and the Organization of American States - as well as Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo - were charged with supervising the cease-fire and demobilization.
The accord, completed after 14 hours of negotiations, does not meet the Sandinista Front's demand that the Contras disband by April 25.
And it also makes no mention of what had been a key Contra demand - that the Sandinista People's Army be neutralized as a condition for the rebels to surrender their weapons.
Chamorro's United National Opposition alliance clearly gained the most from the agreement - the opportunity to start its government in peace, instead of in the middle of civil war, bitter recriminations or anti-government strikes, as had been feared.
After almost a decade of war, each side was suspicious of the other's motives, and neither wanted to be the first to put down its weapons.
The army is controlled by the Sandinista party, and the Contras insisted that they wouldn't disarm until they were sure that Chamorro had full control of the government and that it was safe for them to return home.
Under a protocol with Chamorro's coalition, the Sandinistas agreed to depoliticize the army and to reduce its size. In exchange, the incoming government promised to ``respect the integrity and professionalism' of the army.
Some Sandinistas appeared disappointed the accord did not call for the immediate disbanding of the Contras, and a mob of youths chanting anti-Contra slogans surrounded a senior U.S. official's car hours after the agreement was signed.