Nicaragua talks resume after prisoner release deal

Managua (AFP) –


Nicaragua's government and opposition delegations resumed stalled peace talks Thursday aimed at ending a deadly 11-month political crisis.

The resumption follows an agreement on Wednesday by the government of President Daniel Ortega to release all opposition prisoners within 90 days.

"It's a big step forward," said Max Jerez, a student representative on the opposition delegation.

The agreement includes a call on sanctions against Ortega's regime to be lifted.

On Monday, the opposition alliance suspended talks that had begun on February 27 after 100 protesters were temporarily detained on Saturday by police who used tear gas to prevent a protest against Ortega's government.

The number of prisoners due to be released was not given.

According to a list compiled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 647 people being held as a result of the anti-government protests that began in April last year. The government says it is holding 350 detainees while a committee of relatives maintains 807 people are being held.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is due to monitor the release process.

The two parties have agreed on a six-point negotiation process to accompany the releases and have asked for international support in implementing the agreements reached, according to a statement issued by the presidency.

The 90-day release period has been greeted with suspicion by relatives and local human rights organizations.

Vilma Nunez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, said she feared the prisoners would be treated as "hostages, released one by one as the agenda items are discussed."

- 'Ongoing monitoring'-

"The government has repeatedly shown that its goal is to do as little as possible in the negotiations, and I believe there will be a need for ongoing monitoring and pressure to ensure that all detainees are released within the next 90 days," Geoff Thale of the Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA), told AFP.

Meanwhile, the IACHR put Nicaragua on its human rights blacklist along with Venezuela and Cuba.

In its annual report, citing a group of experts' conclusion in December, the IACHR said authorities committed crimes against humanity during the brutal crackdown on the protests.

The IACHR "has watched closely as Nicaragua's human rights situation continued to worsen, particularly since the start of violence from April 18, 2018, as part of state repression of protests," it said a statement.

Also in the report by the independent body of the Organization of American States, Venezuela and Cuba again were described as countries that did not meet respect for human rights.

Nicaragua has been mired in political crisis since April last year, when a protest initially against a now-scrapped pension reform snowballed into opposition to Ortega's rule.

The 73-year-old former left-wing guerrilla leader has been in power for more than 11 years but alongside his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo, he has been accused of ruling with an iron fist and committing rights abuses.

The deadly unrest has left at least 325 people dead, 2,000 people wounded, and sent 52,000 people into exile, human rights groups say.