MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaragua's government and opposition began negotiating Thursday how to carry out the release of hundreds of political prisoners arrested in the past year of unrest.
President Daniel Ortega's government announced Wednesday it would free the prisoners within 90 days in exchange for the lifting of external sanctions.
The prisoner release is the first of five agenda items negotiators plan to tackle after several fitful weeks of meetings to establish ground rules for talks on resolving Nicaragua's political divisions.
The Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners, which counts about 640 such prisoners, said in a statement Thursday that the prisoners should be freed within 15 days and that the negotiations should not begin until all are released.
Both sides have agreed to ask the International Red Cross to monitor the prisoner release, but neither the government nor the opposition Civic Alliance have put a number on how many prisoners would be released.
The Organization of American States representative Luis Rosadilla and the Vatican's ambassador to Nicaragua Waldemar Sommertag have been observing the talks.
U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Kevin Sullivan via Twitter applauded the agreement to release the prisoners as a "positive step." He said the agenda for the talks presented a path back to democracy for the country.
Negotiators also planned to discuss electoral reforms, strengthening citizens' rights and the safe return of more than 52,000 people who have left the country since last April, according to opposition politician Jose Pallais.
Once there is agreement on all points, the Civic Alliance would call on the international community to suspend sanctions against the government.
On Thursday, Ortega told a crowd that "we do not all think alike, but despite our ideological and political differences, we must unite around a sacred goal, which is peace."
Also Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution pushed by Argentina condemning human rights abuses in Nicaragua and calling for monitoring by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also included Nicaragua for the first time in a quarter century among the countries that require special monitoring because of the deterioration of the human rights situation. It has counted at least 325 killed and 2,000 wounded.