Nicaragua gov't says it will guarantee safe return of exiles

AP

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MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua's government said Monday it will implement a program to guarantee the safe return of exiles, a proposal the opposition dismissed as "absurd."

Anyone who fled in the past year and does not have an open court case or formal accusation against them will be eligible to return, the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement. It said the International Organization for Migration would provide technical support, although that group said late Monday it had agreed only to study at the government's plan.

The government made the proposal to the opposition Civic Alliance on April 10, but said it didn't reach a consensus.

Alliance director Azahálea Solís said the group rejected the proposal as "absurd."

"It's ridiculous to act like the exiles would believe the same government that threatened them, persecuted them, killed their relatives and occupied their houses is now going to safeguard their lives and safety," Solís said. She said the proposal did not include any real mechanism for protecting those who return.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people have been killed during the past year of unrest. The commission estimates there are more than 52,000 people who have fled the country, mostly to Costa Rica.

The Civic Alliance believes there are at least 160 people who fled the country while facing an arrest order.

Solís said the alliance had countered the government's idea with a plan for returns to be supervised by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights, but said the government rejected that idea. The government has opposed the commission as a guarantor of the negotiations.

She also criticized the government for not completing the release of political prisoners that authorities had promised.

Jairo Bonilla, a student protest leader who went to Costa Rica last year, said he still receives daily threats from government supporters.

"For us as exiles there is no guarantee that we could return and nothing would happen to us," said Bonilla, who maintained that he is accused falsely of violent acts during the protests.

Bonilla also said President Daniel Ortega is trying to relieve international pressure on his government.

"He wants to make it seem like everything is normal in Nicaragua, that Nicaragua is negotiating, when every day they are killing more people, they are arresting more people without the world realizing it," Bonilla said.

Human rights activist Sara Henríquez, exiled in Italy, called the proposal a "tremendous joke."

"We don't have any assurance that they aren't going to kill us," she said. "All of us who left for exile, it was because we were threatened with death or we have cases with the police."

___

Associated Press writer Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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