A week before the expiration of a 60-day cease-fire with U.S.-backed rebels, President Daniel Ortega softened his stance and offered to extend the truce a month.

Ortega, yielding on another previously non-negotiable position, said Monday the government would allow the rebels, known as Contras, to receive the nearly $48 million in non-lethal aid approved by Congress through a private contractor.The leftist Sandinista government previously demanded that the aid be disbursed through a neutral organization.

The cease-fire, part of a nine-point peace plan signed by the Sandinista government and the Contras March 23, went into effect April 1 and is due to expire in one week.

Ortega said Monday the government "will offer unilaterally to extend the cease-fire by another 30 days."

The offer softened an earlier threat in which Ortega said that if the rebels and the government failed to extend the cease-fire, the army would "launch a military offensive greater than anything (the rebels) have seen before."

Ortega said the army still "reserves the right to defend against Contra attacks."

"If the war resumes, it will not be because of the Nicaraguan government," Ortega said. "The responsibility will lie with the United States government and, therefore, with the Contras."

The next round of peace talks is scheduled for Wednesday through Friday but the rebels and the government have failed to agree on a site.

The rebels have objected to holding the talks in Managua - site of the previous two rounds - complaining they were virtually imprisoned in their hotel and not allowed to move freely.