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CONTRAS DISARM IN EARNEST AS 498 LAY DOWN WEAPONS

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About 500 Contra rebels surrendered their weapons in the largest one-day disarmament since the process began more than a month ago, U.N. officials said.

Contra leaders signed an agreement earlier Wednesday with President Violeta Chamorro pledging to disarm at least 500 troops a day, with the last rebel to give up his weapons by June 10.However, Santiago Murray, spokesman for the Organization of American States' Support and Verification Commission, which is monitoring the process, said it was not possible to complete the disarmament on time.

"We have the capacity to oversee the disarmament of 200 troops a day in each of the five security zones," Murray said, referring to areas set aside for the disarmament process.

"But there are more than 10,000 Contras, so even if 1,000 a day are disarmed, it wouldn't be in time," he said. "But it's not important because enough of them will be disarmed by June 10."

Col. Manuel Maldonado, chief of the U.N. peace-keeping force in Nicaragua, said 498 Contras disarmed Wednesday, the most since the Contras began the process after Chamorro took office April 25, following her election victory two months earlier over Sandinista President Daniel Ortega.

The Contras have fought a bloody, nine-year civil war with the Sandinistas who, despite their election loss to Chamorro Feb. 25, still control the military.

Many of the Contras have said they will not turn in their arms until the Sandinista army does the same.

"We are all Nicaraguans and we all want peace," Chamorro said Wednesday after all-night talks with rebel leaders. "Our friends of the resistance have promised to comply with all the agreements and to completely disarm by June 10."

In an apparent gift to Chamorro - who has four children and is seen as a mother figure by many Nicaraguans - the Contras said many rebels would hand in their weapons "in honor of Mothers' Day," which was celebrated by Nicaraguans Wednesday.

The agreement also reaffirmed earlier accords whereby the rebels have vowed to disarm by June 10.

More than 12,500 of the 15,000 Contras still retained their weapons as of Wednesday morning, according to U.N. officials.