The seven commanders of the Nicaraguan rebels' southern military front resigned late Tuesday to protest the election of Contra military chief Enrique Bermudez to the movement's political leadership.

The commanders lead 2,700 fighters based in Costa Rica. The northern front, based in Honduras, has seven commanders and the rest of the Contras' estimated 12,000 soldiers.Bermudez, 56, a colonel in the army of Anastasio Somoza before the late right-wing Nicaraguan president was deposed, was elected Monday to the seven-member directorate of the Nicaraguan Resistance.

The directorate oversees the U.S.-backed insurgency against the leftist government of the Sandinistas, who in 1979 defeated Somoza.

A communique released in San Jose Tuesday night by the seven field commanders condemned "the placing in charge of the highest military post of the insurgents an ex-colonel of the hated Somocista National Guard."

It also charged Bermudez deliberately withheld U.S. aid for the rebels from the southern front to enhance his own power in the movement.

"The Nicaraguan Resistance has not in the past nor in the present nor will it in the future fulfill the yearnings and hopes of the Nicaraguan exiles," the statement said.

"We want to emphasize that we don't question the right of all Nicaraguans to participate in the liberation of the fatherland," it said.

The communique said the decision to resign from the Resistance was unanimously endorsed by the 2,700 fighters on the southern front.

It did not say whether they independently would continue their war to topple Nicaragua's government.

The statement identified the seven by their pseudonyms of Ganso, Navegante, Pedro Rafa, Ramiro, Johnny, Ali and Omar.

Commanders Ganso, Ali, Omar and Navegante participated in high-level peace negotiations between the Resistance and the Sandinistas held in Managua.

Those talks, conducted under a temporary cease-fire agreement reached March 23, broke down June 9.