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Civil war fear for Honduras after talks collapse

world Updated: Jul 20, 2009 13:10 IST
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There were fears civil war was brewing Monday in Honduras after weekend talks between the country’s rival governments collapsed over ousted President Manuel Zelaya’s demand he be returned to power.

“We have started organizing internal resistance for my return to the country,” Zelaya told reporters in Nicaragua, where he has been based since his forced exile on June 28 by the Honduran army.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias warned Honduras was at the brink of “civil war and bloodshed” following the failure of talks he was mediating between representatives of Zelaya and of the new, de facto government in Honduras.

Zelaya’s negotiators ended those discussions late Sunday after the de facto government’s team rejected as “unacceptable” a proposal by Arias that Zelaya go back as president at the head of a “reconciliation” government.

Arias, a 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work in resolving conflicts in Central America, pleaded for the talks to resume after a 72-hour break.

There was no indication that appeal was heeded, though sources close to the negotiations said both sides might meet again late Wednesday.

Neither Zelaya nor the head of the de facto government, congress leader Roberto Micheletti, were in Costa Rica for the talks. Each man has declared himself the only legitimate president of Honduras.

Honduras’s new regime took exception to Arias’s use of the words “civil war,” with its deputy foreign minister, Martha Lorena Alvarado, accusing the Costa Rican president of “taking us towards a situation of near-panic” by using those words.

She welcomed the call for 72 hours’ reflection, but ruled out allowing Zelaya’s return as president, citing Honduras’s laws.

Micheletti’s government has promised to arrest Zelaya if he does reappear in Honduras and prosecute him for treason and 17 other charges.

Zelaya’s supporters in Honduras, however, said they would intensify their daily protests and road blocks pressing for the ousted leader’s reinstatement and hold a strike Thursday and Friday.

The leader of the National Front Against the Coup d’Etat, Berta Caceres, told AFP her group opposed Arias’s plan for a reconciliation government that included what she termed “the putschists.”

The secretary general of the Organization of American States, Jose Miguel Insulza, also said his body was going to pressure Honduras’s de facto regime to make it recognize “this is a coup that failed.”

The OAS would hold a meeting Monday to analyze the situation, Insulza said. Zelaya has vowed to reenter Honduras with or without agreement from the rival regime.

He tried to fly back into Honduras on July 5 on a plane borrowed from his strongest ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but had to abort the landing when Honduran military vehicles parked on the runway.

Rumors suggested he might next try to cross the border from Nicaragua.

Many of Honduras’s lawmakers, judges and military leaders believe Zelaya triggered the crisis by organizing a June 28 referendum, without congressional approval, on whether to change the constitution.

They fear the wealthy rancher, who swerved sharply left after being elected to office in 2005, was aiming to lift the one-term limit on Honduran presidents to prolong his mandate.

Such a move has been adopted by several leftwing leaders in Latin America, all following Chavez’s suit. President Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa this year changed rules to enable them to stay in power.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega chose Sunday -- the 30th anniversary of his leftist Sandinista revolution -- to declare he, too, would seek to change his country’s constitution to seek reelection.

Late Sunday, the United States urged all parties to Costa Rica-mediated talks “to commit themselves to their successful conclusion.”

A statement issued by acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood appeared to dismiss the notion of diplomacy’s failure and urged more energetic efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.

“This weekend’s talks produced significant progress, and created a foundation for a possible resolution that adheres to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the decisions taken within the Organization of American States,” Wood said.

Washington has backed the OAS’s demand that Zelaya be returned to power, and frozen military aid to Honduras’s new regime. But it has also warned Zelaya against rash moves that might jeopardize dialogue.