Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oscar Arias warns of civil war in Honduras after talks collapse

(Photo: REUTERS/FILE)By Ana Fernandez (AFP)

Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Costa Rican president Oscar Arias warned of civil war in Honduras after talks broke down between representatives of the country's rival governments.

Representatives of the de facto rulers on Sunday rejected a proposal by Arias, the international mediator, to let deposed leader Manuel Zelaya return as president in charge of a "reconciliation" government.

Arias, who has won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work resolving conflicts in Central America, warned that Honduras is at the brink of "civil war and bloodshed".

"We have started organizing internal resistance for my return to the country," Zelaya told reporters in Nicaragua, where he has been based since he was forced out by the army on June 28.

Arias pleaded for talks to resume after a 72-hour break but there was no sign his appeal would be heeded, though sources close to the negotiations said the two sides might meet again on Wednesday.

Neither Zelaya nor acting president Roberto Micheletti, a congress leader who heads the de facto government, were in Costa Rica for the talks.

Micheletti backers took exception to the use by Arias of the words "civil war". One, Honduras deputy foreign minister Martha Lorena Alvarado, accused the Costa Rican president of "taking us towards a situation of near-panic".

Alvarado welcomed the call for 72 hours' reflection, but ruled out allowing Zelaya to return as president.

Micheletti's government has promised to arrest Zelaya if he does come back and prosecute him for treason and 17 other charges.

Zelaya's supporters in Honduras, however, said they would intensify their protests pressing for his reinstatement. They called a strike for Thursday and Friday.

The leader of the National Front Against the Coup d'Etat, Berta Caceres, told AFP her group opposed Arias's proposed plan for a reconciliation government.

A statement issued late Sunday by acting US State Department spokesman Robert Wood 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.

Without mentioning Venezuela and its allies by name, Wood also called on OAS states to "underscore their commitment to the peaceful resolution of political disputes" and "remain mindful of the principles of non-intervention and self-determination."

Washington has backed the OAS demand that Zelaya be returned to power, and frozen military aid to the de facto government. But it has also warned Zelaya against rash moves that might jeopardize dialogue.

Zelaya has vowed to go back to Honduras with or without agreement from his rivals. He tried to fly back on July 5 on a plane borrowed from his ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, but aborted the landing when Honduran military vehicles parked on the runway.

Many Honduran lawmakers, judges and military leaders believe Zelaya triggered the crisis by organizing a June 28 referendum, without congressional approval, on changing the constitution.

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

Such a move has been adopted by several left-wing 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.

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