Zelaya Returns to Honduras Border, to Set Up Camp

By: Morgan Lee AP Email
By: Morgan Lee AP Email

LAS MANOS, Nicaragua (AP) - 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 in power since last month's coup.

Zelaya arrived at a rural frontier crossing and immediately grabbed a megaphone, shouting to a crowd of 100 supporters and about as many journalists. He vowed to wait there 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 his family to reach the Honduran side of the border so he could see them.

"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.

Xiomara Castro, Zelaya's wife 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 drove north from his hotel in the early afternoon in a white jeep, accompanied by two pickup trucks carrying his Nicaraguan police escort. It was his second largely symbolic trip to the border in as many days.

On Friday, Zelaya triumphantly lifted a chain marking the frontier and took a few strides into Honduran territory. He urged Hondurans to resist the coup-installed government before retreating into Nicaragua, less than 30 minutes after planting his cowboy boots on home soil.

Zelaya is demanding he be reinstated as president following the June 28 coup, which has been widely repudiated around the globe.

The interim government of Roberto Micheletti vows to arrest Zelaya and put him on trial, though soldiers did not approach him Friday at the remote mountain border crossing.

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.

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

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

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called trip "reckless" and said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order. Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza had urged Zelaya not to go home without an agreement for fear it could lead to bloodshed.

Zelaya said Friday that he had no choice but to travel to the border after U.S.-backed talks failed to reinstate him. He insisted his lightning trip showed the Micheletti government's control is slipping, and he has said he also wants to see his family, from whom he was separated after he was rousted out of the country by soldiers while still in his pajamas.

On Saturday, a delegation of U.S. lawmakers led by Florida Republican Connie Mack was due to arrive 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.

Zelaya is a rich rancher who moved to the left and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez after being elected.

Costa Rican President Oscar Arias has acted as mediator in talks aimed at resolving the crisis, and last week presented a proposal that would restore Zelaya to the presidency and offer amnesty to the coup leaders.

But it was rejected in Tegucigalpa, with the sticking point still being Zelaya's return; the interim government has refused any pact that would reinstate Zelaya, ignoring threats of sanctions from the United States and other nations.

Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez said the interim government accepts most of Arias' proposals in principle, but not Zelaya's reinstatement.

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

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirmed that Zelaya intends to come to Washington Tuesday "for further discussions."

Washington has already suspended more than $18 million in military and development assistance. The European Union has frozen $92 million in development aid.

But Zelaya says U.S. pressure "has been limited. Its measures have not been effective."

"There is a de facto regime ruling with bayonets, and in that sense, the United States has told me they want a peaceful solution," he said. "I'm also looking for a peaceful solution."


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