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The Sandinista government and the U.S.-backed rebels signed a cease-fire agreement early Thursday that calls on the Contras to begin laying down their arms next week and to disband by June 10.

The cease-fire, which began at noon Thursday, will be verified by U.N. forces and Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo.The document was signed by Nicaragua's minister of defense, Gen. Humberto Ortega, rebel commanders Oscar Sovalbarro and Aquilino Ruiz Robleto, and aides to President-elect Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

"With this accord we conclude the peace process started with the elections," said Antonio Lacayo, chief of the Chamorro transition team.

The Yatama Miskito Indian group fighting alongside the Contras on the Atlantic coast reached a separate but similar disarmament agreement that establishes a cease-fire in the eastern half of the country.

The accords appeared to end a tense standoff among the Sandinista government, Chamorro's incoming administration and the Contras that had threatened to derail the transfer of power in Nicaragua.

The signing came after lengthy negotiations.

The agreement says the rebel forces should begin disarming on Wednesday, the day the Chamorro government is inaugurated. Demobilization of the Contra forces is to be completed by June 10 at the latest.

The leftist Sandinistas had demanded that the Contras disarm before they handed power to the new civilian government. But Gen. Ortega said Thursday that it was more important that peace be reached.

The accord says the Contras' weapons will be surrendered "in a voluntary form" in the presence of U.N. forces and Obando y Bravo.

It also establishes security zones for the rebels inside Nicaragua.

Under the accord signed Thursday, Sandinista forces are to start withdrawing immmediately from the five security zones and complete the withdrawal by Saturday.

Sandinista President Daniel Ortega had warned that if the Contras failed to disarm, the transfer of power could be endangered.