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Honduras backs out of safe passage offer for Zelaya

De facto rulers had agreed to let Mexico send a plane to pick up the deposed president, but then added a caveat saying Zelaya could travel only as a private citizen seeking asylum. He refused.

December 11, 2009|By Tracy Wilkinson
  • At Manuel Zelaya's request, Mexico requested safe passage for him and dispatched a presidential jet to fetch him. Honduran officials agreed and issued a travel document -- but then added a caveat: Zelaya could transit only as a private citizen seeking political asylum. He refused.
At Manuel Zelaya's request, Mexico requested safe passage for him… (Andres Conteris / AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Mexico City — The de facto government of Honduras withdrew its offer Thursday to deposed President Manuel Zelaya of safe passage out of the country, asserting he could leave only if he renounced his claim to the office.

The actions by Honduras' coup-installed rulers threw cold water on efforts to free Zelaya from the Brazilian Embassy, where he took refuge 2 1/2 months ago.

"I could be here 10 years," Zelaya told a radio station from inside the embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. He said he was being required to sign a letter of resignation in exchange for being allowed to leave, terms he branded "blackmail."

At Zelaya's request, Mexico on Wednesday requested safe passage for him and dispatched a presidential jet to fetch him. Honduran officials, who have been threatening to arrest him, agreed and issued a travel document -- but then added a caveat: Zelaya could transit only as a private citizen seeking political asylum.

Zelaya refused. Accepting such terms would mean he was not traveling as president but as a refugee, and he would be barred from political activity.

Honduras reneged and withdrew safe passage. The Mexican plane was diverted to neighboring El Salvador.

Mexico was not pleased. "The status with which a foreign national is admitted to a country is exclusively a decision of the country admitting him," Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said Thursday. She said Zelaya could enter Mexico under any of a number of categories, which had not yet been determined.

Honduras' de facto leaders said they considered the issue of Zelaya's presidency moot after the Dec. 2 vote by Congress against reinstating him. They were afraid he might attempt to set up a government-in-exile if he left the country under a status other than political refugee, said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mireya Corrales. "It could be a diplomatic fiasco," she said.

Honduras' newly elected president, Porfirio Lobo, does not take office until Jan. 27

Zelaya said he had wanted to go to Mexico to find a neutral place to talk with various parties to find a solution to the crisis that has enveloped Honduras since the June 28 military-backed coup in which he was ousted and deported to Costa Rica.

wilkinson@latimes.com

Special correspondent Alex Renderos in San Salvador contributed to this report.

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