Nicaragua has declared an end to its bloody eight-year civil war, but President Violeta Chamorro faces the difficult task of healing the wounds of a divided nation.
Contra rebel leaders, who battled the former leftist Sandinista government with U.S. support, declared an end to the war Wednesday when they handed over their weapons to a smiling Chamorro and international observers."What we need in Nicaragua is to forgive each other, offer each other a hand to be able work in this small country," Chamorro told a cheering crowd of several thousand in the town of San Pedro de Lovago, 100 miles east of the capital.
Contra leader Israel Galeano, known as Comandante Franklin, said the rebels are eager to put behind them the war that claimed 30,000 lives.
"Today we feel a commitment and the responsibility to contribute as citizens to the strengthening of this government," Galeano said from the steps of the town's church.
Until the Sandinista electoral defeat, he was based at one of several rebel camps in Honduras from which the Contras launched forays into Nicaraguan territory.
Some 19,000 former Contras are expected to return to their hometowns or take up residence with their families in settlement areas guaranteed them under the accord their leaders signed with the government last month.
Contra celebrations in the rural province of Chontales were marred by the collision of two Nicaraguan government helicopters carrying journalists back to the capital after the ceremony.
The Interior Ministry said no one died in the accident between two Soviet-built MI-17 helicopters, but a Reuters journalist on a third helicopter counted at least 12 injured, some of them seriously.
Chamorro, elected in a surprise victory in February, announced two weeks ago that she had slated the nation's armed forces for massive reductions as part of a plan to demilitarize Nicaragua.
But Chamorro's opponents charge she is too cozy with the Contras, whose leaders she embraced and addressed as "the boys" Wednesday.
Former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega called Wednesday for an equally attractive demobilization plan for members of the armed forces who enter civilian life.