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Honduran talks deadlocked on reinstating Zelaya

A Monday deadline passes with no agreement on reinstating the ousted president. The de facto leaders say the decision should rest with the Supreme Court, whereas Zelaya's side favors Congress.

October 20, 2009|Tracy Wilkinson

MEXICO CITY — Representatives of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and the de facto government that replaced him in a coup returned to negotiations Monday, but the two sides remained deadlocked over whether to return Zelaya to power.

Both delegations had suggested Monday as a deadline for resolving the dispute, or calling off talks altogether.

De facto President Roberto Micheletti abruptly announced Friday that the Supreme Court was the body that should decide whether to reinstate Zelaya.

The head of Zelaya's team, Victor Meza, called the proposal "absurd" and countered that the Congress should make the decision, arguing that returning Zelaya to office was a political matter, not a judicial one.

The Supreme Court has endorsed the coup, and Zelaya's supporters do not trust it to be an impartial arbiter. The Congress also signed off on the coup and voted Micheletti into office, but Zelaya may believe there is more room for political jockeying among legislators.

Micheletti's representatives favor deferring to the court because they want Zelaya to be brought to trial immediately on various charges, including abuse of power.

The two sides have agreed on all other points in a plan drafted in July by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, including a decision to forgo amnesty for people involved in the coup and the events leading up to it. But the final point, Zelaya's reinstatement, appears to be the deal-breaker.

"There may be some agreement, but if even 5% is missing, then you might as well have nothing," Juan Barahona, a union leader and ardent supporter of Zelaya, told reporters in the capital, Tegucigalpa.

Washington and Latin American nations are demanding that Zelaya be allowed to finish his term, which ends in January, and have warned that the presidential election scheduled for Nov. 29 would not be recognized if the crisis is not resolved. Despite the United States' traditional influence in Honduras, the de facto government has not relented.

"We had great hopes [last week], but it seems things have bogged down again," Enrique V. Iglesias, a veteran regional diplomat and head of the Ibero-American General Secretariat, told reporters in Mexico City on Monday. "I am very worried the way solutions keep getting delayed."

Zelaya was ousted in a military-backed coup June 28 and deported on a flight to Costa Rica. His opponents accused him of attempting to tinker with the constitution as a way to remain in office, a charge he denied. When deposed, he was pushing ahead with plans to hold a non-binding referendum to gauge support for changing the constitution, a move ruled illegal by the courts.

Despite threats of arrest, Zelaya sneaked back into the country on Sept. 21, taking refuge in the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, where he has remained.

Also Monday, the de facto government relaxed restrictions on demonstrations and opposition media by revoking a decree suspending many civil rights. After Zelaya returned to the country, Micheletti imposed the restrictions in a bid to quell demonstrations that the acting president argued were violent. Faced with intense criticism abroad and among some of his own allies, Micheletti agreed to lift the decree.

A United Nations delegation launched an investigation into possible human rights abuses in Honduras.

In addition to suspending civil liberties, the de facto government has deployed troops to raid two opposition broadcasters and to put down protests. Four people have been killed, according to the government; opposition groups put the number at 12.

Because Honduras has become so polarized, claims by Zelaya supporters of major human rights abuses have been difficult to verify. Human rights advocates are especially troubled by what they call a campaign by Micheletti's government to block serious investigations.

The human rights unit of the Honduran attorney general's office has attempted to investigate killings, alleged use of excessive force by the army and police, and reports of arbitrary detentions, but it has been blocked by superiors and threatened by the military, Human Rights Watch said in a statement last week.

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wilkinson@latimes.com

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