About 3,000 Contra fighters have split from the U.S.-backed rebel leadership, citing the elevation of military leader Enrique Bermudez to a political position within the movement.

The Contras' Southern Front dissidents, in a statement Wednesday, also cited a severe lack of supplies in their decision to leave the main group, known as the Nicaraguan Resistance.The rift came two days after Bermudez's election to the rebel Directorate at a Contra leadership meeting in the Dominican Republic. The statement was released in San Jose, Costa Rica, and read to United Press International by telephone.

The Nicaraguan Resistance is the U.S.-backed umbrella group of the military and political factions of the Contras who have been fighting the leftist Sandinista government for seven years.

It was not immediately clear whether the dissident rebels would continue to fight against the Managua government as a separate force.

The statement said the Southern Front, whose 3,000 members are considered the second-most important rebel force, were "in disagreement" with Bermudez's nearly unanimous election Monday to the political Directorate at the annual meeting of the Contra Assembly.

The Southern Front rebels are the remnants of a guerrilla force formed by Eden Pastora, the charismatic former Sandinista leader known as Commander Zero, who after splitting with Managua formed his own rebel group but balked at direction from the United States. Pastora has withdrawn from the movement and is reported to be living in Costa Rica.