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Honduras crisis mediation at an impasse

Talks hosted by Costa Rica's Oscar Arias collapse after Honduras' de facto government rejects his proposal, which called for reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

July 20, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson and Alex Renderos

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS, AND SAN SALVADOR — Talks to resolve the coup crisis in Honduras collapsed Sunday after the de facto government refused a mediator's proposal to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya.

The failure of negotiations under the direction of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias dashed the most promising diplomatic effort aimed at ending the crisis and raised the specter of more violence.

"What is the alternative to dialogue?" a disappointed Arias said in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. "Possibly . . . there could be a civil war, or bloodshed, that the Honduran people do not deserve."

Zelaya, toppled in a military coup June 28 and deported, has threatened to force his way back into his country, with or without a political agreement.

Carlos Lopez, representing the de facto Honduran government as foreign minister, said it would not agree to the brief reinstatement of Zelaya, the first of seven points proposed by Arias.

"I am very sorry," Lopez said to Arias, "but the proposals you have presented are unacceptable."

He said efforts to reinstate "petitioning citizen Mr. Zelaya" represented foreign interference in Honduran affairs. He likened Zelaya's purported violation of the Honduran Constitution to "a woman being raped by the person obliged to defend her."

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher whose politics veered to the left in recent years, had been pursuing a nonbinding referendum on amending the constitution that had been ruled illegal. He was ousted by a Honduran elite concerned that he was trying to change the constitution to allow for his reelection. Honduran presidents are limited to a single term.

In the San Jose talks, Arias said, Zelaya's delegation had accepted the plan he proposed Saturday. In addition to the president's return to serve out his term ending in January, the plan included the formation of a "national reconciliation" government with members of all political parties and a general amnesty for coup-related political crimes.

But the de facto government of President Roberto Micheletti, named by Congress to replace Zelaya, remained adamant in rejecting Zelaya's return.

"We are very sorry," said the head of Zelaya's delegation, Rixi Moncada, "that in the search for peace and normalcy . . . this [opposing] commission could not accept the seven points."

Arias, who in his previous tenure as Costa Rican president won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end Central America's wars, said he wanted to work an additional 72 hours on finding common ground between the Honduran enemies. But neither side seemed optimistic that further talks would do any good.

Zelaya attempted to fly into Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital, on July 5, but was thwarted when the army placed vehicles on the airport runway. He says he will return from his exile in Nicaragua by the end of the week by air, sea or land.

Arias was commissioned by Washington and other regional powers to find a solution to the standoff, and it was unclear whether there was a Plan B.

"This is very worrisome," said Leo Valladares, a law professor and former human rights ombudsman for the Honduran government. "If there is not a consensus arrangement, then we could witness a lot more violence."

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wilkinson@latimes.com

Renderos is a special correspondent.

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