Exiled Honduran Leader Makes 2nd Trip To Border

By: AP
By: AP
**  CORRECTS PHOTOGRAPHER'S BYLINE TO FERNANDO ANTONIO  ** A demonstrator, with a Honduran flag on his shoulders, stands next to a bonfire near to the presidential house in Tegucigalpa, Monday, June 29, 2009. Honduras' new leaders defied growing global pressure on Monday to reverse a military coup, arguing that they had followed their constitution in removing President Manuel Zelaya. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio)

** CORRECTS PHOTOGRAPHER'S BYLINE TO FERNANDO ANTONIO ** A demonstrator, with a Honduran flag on his shoulders, stands next to a bonfire near to the presidential house in Tegucigalpa, Monday, June 29, 2009. Honduras' new leaders defied growing global pressure on Monday to reverse a military coup, arguing that they had followed their constitution in removing President Manuel Zelaya. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio)

LAS MANOS, Nicaragua (AP) -- Deposed President Manuel Zelaya returned to the Honduran border on Saturday and announced he would set up camp there, despite foreign leaders urging him not to force a confrontation with the government that ousted him in last month's coup.

Zelaya arrived at a rural frontier crossing and immediately grabbed a megaphone, shouting to a crowd of 150 supporters and about as many journalists. He vowed to wait near the border and demanded his family be allowed to meet him.

"We are going to stand firm," Zelaya told the crowd, complaining that the interim government has not allowed him to reunite with his family, whom he hasn't seen since he was whisked at gunpoint from his home June 28 and forced into exile.

"Today we are going to set up camps here, with water and food. We are going to stay here this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow morning," he said.

Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, told CNN by telephone that she was stopped at a roadblock on a highway leading to the border and that police and soldiers would not let her and others pass.

Zelaya says he is going to commute back and forth between the border crossing and the Nicaraguan town of El Ocotal about 25 miles (40 kms) down the road, and probably won't try another border crossing like the brief, symbolic trip a few meters (yards) into Honduran territory he performed Friday. He said he fears soldiers would attack his supporters if he did.

About 50 soldiers manned a line about 100 meters (yards) inside Honduran territory, with a few Honduran police a bit closer to the line.

By afternoon, the tents promised by Zelaya had yet to show up, and Zelaya's supporters sought shelter from afternoon rains under the eaves of border shops and ramshackle eateries. School buses drove the Zelaya supporters to El Ocotal to spend the night in a gymnasium before returning them to the border crossing Sunday morning.

Hondurans were sneaking across the border into Nicaragua in small groups to join up with pro-Zelaya forces, using foot paths through forests to avoid patrols. By late Saturday, about 300 supporters had shown up.

Honduran school teacher Dania Gomez Perez, 26, arrived at the border Friday after walking all day through the mountains because Honduran police refused to allow the bus she was on to go any further.

"We are ready to risk our lives, because the people demand" Zelaya's return, said Gomez Perez.

On Friday, Zelaya triumphantly lifted a chain marking the frontier and took a few strides into Honduran territory, where the interim government has charged him with violating the constitution and has vowed to arrest him.

He retreated into Nicaragua less than 30 minutes later. Soldiers did not approach him Friday at the remote mountain border crossing.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the trip "reckless" and said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order.

Zelaya is demanding he be reinstated as president following the coup, which has been widely repudiated around the globe.

Zelaya's brief excursion a few feet into his homeland brought the Honduran political crisis no closer to a resolution - and irritated some foreign leaders who are trying to help him reclaim office. Washington has already suspended more than $18 million in military and development assistance. The European Union has frozen $92 million in development aid.

But it kept up the pressure on the interim government of Roberto Micheletti, who replaced Zelaya, and the international community, highlighting the threat of unrest if negotiations fail to yield a peaceful solution.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias acted as mediator in talks to resolve the crisis, and last week presented a proposal that would restore Zelaya to the presidency and offer amnesty to all sides involved.

But it was rejected in Tegucigalpa, with the sticking point still being Zelaya's return.

On Saturday, the Honduran Defense Ministry issued a statement on its Web site stressing its "subordination to civilian authority" and saying "we support a solution to the problems our country is experiencing, through a process of negotiation within the framework of the San Jose accord," a reference to Arias' compromise proposal.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that Zelaya intends to come to Washington Tuesday "for further discussions." However, Zelaya said there has been no confirmation yet on whether he will meet with Clinton.

"Secretary Clinton does not have adequate information about the repressive regime ... and if she doesn't have that information it is clear she doesn't really have all the context about what is going on," Zelaya said. "Her words should be to repress and admonish the coup government, not the heroic people in resistance."

Zelaya says U.S. pressure "has been limited. Its measures have not been effective." He urged Washington to impose tougher sanctions, trgeting specific people involved in the coup.

Venezuela President Hugo Chavez, a Zelaya ally, took the opportunity criticize both Arias and Clinton.

"It's really an unfortunate role that President Oscar Arias is playing," Chavez said. "I don't know who spoke first, but without doubt Arias is following orders from the State Department - and that's an embarrassment for a Latin American president."

It was unclear who would take the lead in bringing the two sides back to the table.

Meanwhile, a delegation of U.S. lawmakers led by Florida Republican Congressman Connie Mack was due to arrive Saturday on a fact-finding mission in Honduras.

Mack's office said he would be in the country through Sunday "to meet with key leaders and officials to discuss the ongoing crisis."

Mack is among a number of U.S. conservatives who argue that Zelaya's ouster was not a coup, but rather a legitimate reaction by courts and congress to Zelaya's attempts to hold a referendum on changing the constitution.

Hundreds of Hondurans defied a curfew on Friday and turned out to support Zelaya at the border town of El Paraiso, clashing with security forces who fired tear gas at the crowds.

The body of a young man who had been stabbed to death was found about 50 meters (160 feet) from where the protests took place. Zelaya supporters accused security forces of killing the man, but police spokesman Daniel Molina denied the accusations.


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