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Honduras puts off delegation's visit

Honduras' de facto rulers put off a visit by OAS foreign ministers, but they endorse one by a pair of mediators. The U.N. Security Council warns against any violation of the Brazilian Embassy.

September 26, 2009|Alex Renderos and Ken Ellingwood

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS, AND MEXICO CITY — Hopes for a breakthrough in Honduras' political crisis snagged Friday after the de facto government said it was not ready to receive a delegation of diplomats who were planning to help mediate.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, who has tried unsuccessfully to find common ground, said interim Honduran leaders told the Organization of American States not to send a delegation of foreign ministers.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Honduras' de facto rulers endorsed a proposed visit by Arias and Panama's vice president, Juan Carlos Varela, but said the OAS delegation would have to wait. Arias told Costa Rican radio Friday that he had no immediate plans to travel to Honduras, the Associated Press reported.

The OAS delegation was to have arrived Friday in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital. There was no immediate comment from the Washington-based organization.

Neither side in the crisis has budged since ousted President Manuel Zelaya made a surprise return to Honduras on Monday and took shelter in the Brazilian Embassy. His return came nearly three months after the army seized him and flew him to Costa Rica in an ouster that drew wide condemnation.

The de facto rulers, led by interim President Roberto Micheletti, appear focused on the planned Nov. 29 presidential election, which they hope will be a key to ending the crisis and the international isolation that has come with it.

For his part, Zelaya says the election will lack legitimacy unless he is first reinstated -- a stance the United States and others have echoed.

The U.S. has not recognized the Micheletti government and has cut off some aid to Honduras.

Some analysts say pressure from outside and from Honduras' presidential candidates will push the two sides toward concessions.

Micheletti has taken a hard line, but "he won't be able to have time on his side," said Eduardo Bahr, a Honduran author and analyst. "I predict dialogue taking place in the short term."

Leo Valladares, a law professor, predicted that though Zelaya's unexpected appearance has sparked a new test of strength, both sides would yield.

"Neither side wants to end up in a deadlock," he said.

The world has urged the two sides to talk and warned the interim leaders not to touch the Brazilian Embassy compound, where Zelaya and dozens of supporters have holed up, with scant food and water. Many are sleeping on the floor and some have gotten ill, according to telephone interviews with members of the group.

Zelaya charged that the government is releasing toxic gases to make his backers sick. Police denied using gas.

The United Nations Security Council on Friday denounced "acts of intimidation" against the embassy. In an emergency session, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim complained that water and electricity had been cut to the compound, and that the interim government appeared to be considering storming it to seize Zelaya.

In a statement, the Security Council warned the de facto Honduran government to "cease harassing the Brazilian Embassy" and called on it to permit the flow of food, water, electricity and telephone services to the compound. It urged both sides to "remain calm," but did not address who should rule Honduras.

The Honduran Foreign Ministry said charges that it was interfering with the embassy were "totally false." It pledged to respect international laws protecting embassies.

Tentative efforts to spur talks between Zelaya and the de facto rulers have made little headway.

Zelaya said he met Wednesday night with an unidentified representative of the Micheletti government who offered to allow a third party to take over as president, a solution Zelaya said was unacceptable. Zelaya said the proposal would "legitimize that a coup d'etat could be used to negotiate the presidency."

Four of the candidates in the planned November presidential election met separately Thursday night with Micheletti and Zelaya to urge dialogue. Some Honduran politicians assert that a fair and clean election would help persuade the world to recognize a new Honduran government.

Zelaya demands to be reinstated until his term ends in January.

Micheletti insists that Zelaya's removal was legal and says the ousted president must be tried on charges that include treason and abuse of authority.

Arias proposed returning Zelaya to office with limited powers as well as an amnesty for both sides, but Micheletti rejected the idea.

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ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

Renderos is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Tina Susman at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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