Exiled Mel plots border cross

July 23, 2009 12:00 am

, MANAGUA, Jul 23 – Honduran President Manuel Zelaya has vowed to end his month-long exile by staging a dramatic border crossing from Nicaragua, defying government threats to arrest him and warnings the move will prompt bloodshed.

Zelaya, who was bundled out of bed by the Honduran military on June 28 and ushered out of the country, said he would make his latest bid to return home on Friday after Costa Rican-brokered talks with the de facto government collapsed.

The one-time businessman said he would travel to northern Nicaragua on Thursday and "to the border the following day," in a move sure to enflame already heightened tensions in the small Central American nation.

Speaking from Nicaragua — where he is hosted by president and former guerilla leader Daniel Ortega — Zelaya said he would go to the border unarmed. "I will be accompanied by my wife and children," he told journalists.

Earlier this month Zelaya made an abortive attempt to land in the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, but was blocked by military units deployed at the airport’s only runway.

On the ground, his supporters clashed with security forces loyal to de facto president Roberto Micheletti, killing at least one person and wounding several others.

Regional powers, including the United States, have backed Zelaya’s quest to regain office, but urged him not to return for fear of prompting bloodshed in a country some say is teetering on the brink of civil war.

On Wednesday, hundreds of white-clad demonstrators protested against Zelaya’s return in the capital, where the situation has become increasingly polarized.

"We don’t like you, Mel," one banner read at the demonstration, using Zelaya’s nickname.

The ousted president’s supporters have announced their own demonstrations.

Zelaya’s use of Nicaragua as a base to enter Honduras could also inflame regional tensions.
Micheletti has accused leftist governments in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Ecuador of fomenting tension in the country, hinting at plots to escalate the crisis into a military conflict.

Hopes for a mediated solution to the crisis were scuttled when Micheletti’s government rejected fresh proposals that would allow Zelaya to return to power until his term ends in January.

Acting Honduran foreign minister Carlos Lopez Contreras told CNN’s Spanish station that Zelaya’s return as president was "impossible."

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias had called for Zelaya to head a national unity government, until his term ended in January.

In return, the de facto leadership would see sanctions against the country lifted, a limited amnesty for political crimes and a bar on Zelaya seeking constitutional reforms designed to let him seek another term in office.

But negotiators for the interim government returned to Honduras saying the deal presented in Costa Rica would not be signed by their leader.

"As I see it, it will be difficult for him to sign up," spokesman Mauricio Villeda said.

Zelaya meanwhile told Venezuela’s Telesur channel that the crisis mediation "had practically failed." The interim leaders had "decided to deny all possibility of an agreement," he added.

Arias, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work as a mediator ending the region’s brutal civil wars, suggested that if both sides failed to agree, they turn to international bodies, such as the Organization of American States (OAS).

They should seek a solution there "to the worst crisis in almost three decades of the young Honduran democracy," he said.

A frustrated Arias said Honduras had turned into the North Korea or Albania of Central America.

The European Commission’s External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner called on both sides to defuse the crisis.

"Everything must be done so there is a peaceful solution, not a military confrontation," she said during a trip to Mexico.

This week, the European Union this week increased its pressure on the new regime, suspending 65.5 million euros (93 million dollars) in aid to Honduran institutions as part of the international aid freeze.


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