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Case #174

Local peace commissions create spaces for dialogue between adversaries amidst civil war


Since the left-wing Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua in 1979, political violence had plagued the country as the remnants of the previous regime's national guard -- known as the Contras -- joined with other disenchanted groups to oppose the Nicaraguan government. With the help of the US military, which supplied the Contras with arms and funding, the Contra's attacks on USSR-friendly Sandinista forces quickly destabilized the entire country, which soon found itself in a destructive civil war.

One region in particular, Nueva Guinea, was the scene of very heavy fighting between Contra and Sandinista forces. Its proximity to Costa Rica -- home to many of the key Contra bases -- had made the area a hotbed of Contra activity. The violence that plagued Nueva Guinea prompted a group of people -- farmers, Protestant pastors, teachers and others -- to act. They wanted people kidnapped by both sides released.
They wanted bitterly divided families, many of whom had loved ones fighting on both sides of the conflict, to be reunited. They wanted to make the region safer for civilians caught up in the fighting.

This group of determined civilians, calling themselves a local 'peace commission', approached the local branch of CEPAD -- the Council of Evangelical Churches in Nicaragua -- for help. CEPAD offered their unequivocal support and helped the people organise meetings with government and military leaders at all levels to win their support. CEPAD also provided office space, a secretary and vehicles for their work. At the same time tentative contacts were established with the Contra leadership in the hope that they would meet with the peace commission and present their aims to them face to face.

Soon they began to win agreements from both sides for the community, such as the return of kidnapped family members, the right to return to their fields in safety to plant and harvest their crops and the right to travel about the countryside without being accused of being spies. Though small achievements within the larger context of the war, they were the first step in restoring a measure of normality to the lives of the people in the area. As one commentator notes, 'Campesinos were no longer to be mere victims. Rather they became instruments of peace, agents of change."

As word spread of their success, so other groups of citizens, usually led by a local pastor or Catholic lay leader, came together to form peace commissions. By 1987 ---- the date of the signing of the Esquilpas Accord (commonly known as the Arias Peace Plan) that began the slow process of ending the war -- there were 28 such commissions in Nueva Guinea.

By the time the war officially ended following a UN brokered peace accord in 1989 and the election of a new government in February 1990, there were 96 local peace commissions, supported and coordinated by regional/zonal peace commissions.


At the last count there were 220 peace commissions throughout the country, 146 of which were concentrated in Nueva Guinea alone. Captain Pablo Briton, the army's commander in Nueva Guinea, credits the peace commissions with 'making the region stable again'." Mark Chupp, a Mennonite worker who worked with the peace commissions agrees. 'They became brokers of trust, where the space they created provided an arena for the Contra leaders and Sandinistas -- and the rest of the polarized population -- to see each other again as human beings."
Location: Nicaragua
Action: Direct
Setting: Semi-Developed
Extent of Action: Regional (within a country)
Issues: Peace/Conflict Resolution
Year(s): 1984
Outcome partially successful
Source: War Prevention Works: 50 Stories of people resolving conflict, Oxford Research Group


For more information:
Read the CEPAD reports by visiting CEPAD?s website at www.cepad.org.ni. Also see Mark Chupp?s account of his experience with the local peace commissions in the book ?From the Ground Up ? Mennonite Contributions to Internatinal Peacebuilding? (Oxford University Press, UK, 2000)
Prepared By: rja, 11/01
Rating: 1
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