MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Former President Jimmy Carter, ending a three-day tour of Nicaragua Sunday, won the release of two political prisoners but said the pace of democracy lags in the Sandinista government.
'It is not too late to regain the path we envisioned in 1979,' said Carter, whose administration cut off aid to then-dictator Anastasio Somoza leading to his downfall and the rise of the leftist Sandinsta government.
Carter said he was 'not satisfied' that the Sandinista government was fulfilling its promises to restore democracy to the Central American nation.
In an airport news conference, Carter said he found a 'wide gulf' between government leaders and the opposition political and church groups he met.
He called for a 'national reconciliation' in which Nicaraguans 'start talking to each other' as a first step to ending the war that has claimed some 12,000 lives in 4 years.
Carter and his wife Rosalynn left Managua for San Salvador in a commercial flight. While in Nicaragua, Carter met with leaders of the leftist Sandinista government and its opposition.
During his talks with Interior Minister Tomas Borge, Carter obtained the release of two political prisoners, Luis Mora, a journalist for Nicaragua's only opposition newspaper La Prensa, and Jose Altamirano, a labor leader, diplomatic sources said.
Although the meeting was held Friday, it was not known the release was secured until the two men joined Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, Sunday at a Baptist church service.
On Sunday the Carters attended mass at the Santo Domingo Catholic church, where Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, an outspoken critic of the government, preaches.
Although Obando y Bravo originally intended to return from neighboring Honduras for the mass, he could not make it because of transportation problems, a church official said.
Auxiliary Bishop Bosco Vivas delivered a moving sermon that defended the cardinal and the traditional church hierarchy -- which has been one of the most active critics of the Sandinistas.
'The church is not here to act politically against a political party,' he said. 'The church is here to end man's suffering. The tears of mothers whn have lost their sons (in the war) hurts us, the long parade of young men through the cemetery hurts us.'
'Ideologies, strange to our way of living, have come. They want to deny Christ and say the only way to achieve peace is by annihilating the enemy,' Vivas said.
Tense relations between the church hierarchy and the government worsened Jan. 1 when authorities shut down the church radio station, Radio Catolica, for failing to broadcast President Daniel Ortega's end-of-the-year speech.
Carter, a Southern Baptist, sat in the front pew and listened attentively to the mass. Afterward, he joined worshipers in receiving communion from Vivas.