OAS Sending Envoys To Pressure Honduras Coup Gov't

By: AP
By: AP
A high-ranking diplomatic mission will travel to Honduras in a new effort to pressure coup-installed leaders to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the chief mediator in the crisis said Monday.

Supporters of ousted Honduras' President Manuel Zelaya, waving a Honduran flag, demonstrate in front of the Honduran National Congress in Tegucigalpa, Monday, July 20, 2009. U.S. is turning up pressure on the Honduran government installed by a coup, and the businessmen who support it, warning that they will face severe sanctions if Zelaya is not restored to power. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) -- A high-ranking diplomatic mission will travel to Honduras in a new effort to pressure coup-installed leaders to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the chief mediator in the crisis said Monday.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said a group of top Latin American diplomats would seek to persuade the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti to accept all 12 points of a proposed compromise - "the most important one, of course, being the return of President Zelaya."

"I hope Micheletti leaves this door open," Arias said.

Micheletti, however, appeared to keep it closed.

"The former president of Honduras can never return to the presidency because he has declared mediated talks a failure," the interim leader said in a statement hours before Arias' announcement.

Zelaya, who was whisked out of the country in a June 28 coup condemned worldwide, has said negotiations mediated by Arias last month floundered because of Micheletti's refusal to consider his reinstatement.

The exiled leader signaled his own support for the proposed agreement, which would obligate him to abandon ambitions to change the Honduran constitution, an initiative that defied court orders declaring it illegal and led to his ouster. Opponents say Zelaya wanted to end the constitutional ban on multiple presidential terms, but he denies that.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who veered to the left midway through his presidency and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has called for more pressure from the United States, which is Honduras' biggest trade partner and its largest source of direct foreign investment.

The U.S. government has already suspended some $18 million in development aid, revoked the diplomatic visas of four Honduran officials and halted all but essential military cooperation with Honduras, traditionally one of Washington's firmest allies in Latin America.

Those measures have done little to sway Micheletti's government, nor has the suspension of millions of dollars of European Union aid and trade sanctions from some Latin American countries.

Interim leaders have made clear they hope to resist international pressure until the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they hope will weaken resolve to return Zelaya to power.

Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, said he hoped the conflict would be resolved before then. He said the OAS would meet Wednesday to organize the diplomatic mission, which he said he hoped would include foreign ministers.

Honduras' Congress improved prospects for a negotiated solution slightly Monday, pledging to consider granting Zelaya amnesty from abuse of power and other charges if the two sides agree to it.

Amnesty for both Zelaya and the coup leaders is a key component of the compromise proposed by Arias nearly two weeks ago.

Congress stopped short of granting Zelaya amnesty outright, which would have signaled strong support for the Arias plan. It was even less committal on reinstating Zelaya, saying only that any agreement must respect Honduran laws.

Still, the near-unanimous vote Monday night suggested Congress would not stand in the way of a compromise. The 128-seat unicameral legislature, including most of Zelaya's own party, voted overwhelmingly to remove him from office on June 28, hours after he had already been booted from the country.

"We're not approving absolutely anything," lawmaker Rodolfo Irias told Channel 3 television. "We're saying there is goodwill in Congress, and we're ready to discuss any proposal to resolve this problem."

Although his supporters have staged daily demonstrations to demand his return, Zelaya has struggled to muster strong popular resistance among Hondurans to the coup-installed government.

Ahead of a visit to Mexico, Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal where he had settled his government-in-exile and summoned hundreds of supporters to form "peaceful militias" to flank him during a possible return to Honduras. But many of those supporters started heading back to Honduras on Monday when they found him gone.

"I didn't know he had left. I can't stand to be here anymore. We're not doing anything and my children have nothing to eat in Tegucigalpa," said one man who, for fear of prosecution once he returns to Honduras, identified himself as "Marcial," the pseudonym he was assigned in the militia. Zelaya had urged his followers only to use their pseudonyms.

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Associated Press writers Alexandra Olson in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Filadelfo Aleman in Ocotal, Nicaragua, contributed to this story.

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