Honduras settlement talks to continue Sunday

The rival parties in the Honduran political conflict have agreed to continue searching for a negotiated solution Sunday, after Costa Rican President Oscar Arias proposed a detailed plan for settling the three-week-old crisis.

Sun Jul 19, 2:11 AM ET .Supporters of ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya rally in Tegucigalpa. (AFP Photo)

Arias, who is mediating the Honduras crisis talks, proposed Saturday that ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya return to the country under the terms of a national reconciliation plan, but delay the move at least until next Friday.

Zelaya has accepted the delay, according to his spokeswoman.

Arias, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, made the suggestion to representatives of the deposed leader and de facto Honduran president Roberto Micheletti at talks underway here.

He said the two side would meet again Sunday after attending mass. "We have agreed to continue deliberations tomorrow," the Costa Rican leader told reporters. "We will meet again at 11:00 am (1700 GMT)."

The seven-point proposal envisions Zelaya's return to power at the head of a government of "national reconciliation," and the declaration of a general amnesty absolving those who participated in and opposed his June 28 ouster.

Arias' proposal would also see presidential elections moved up to November, with control of the army transferred to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal a month before so military forces could "guarantee a transparent and smooth voting process."

But Micheletti has repeatedly expressed his strong opposition to Zelaya's return or the possibility of the deposed leader serving out the remainder of his term until January 27, 2010.

Arias' proposal would also require Zelaya to "expressly renounce" plans to hold consultative votes seeking to gain support for constitutional changes to terms limits.

His attempts to shore up support for changes to the constitution was the precipitating factor in his arrest and expulsion from Honduras by the country's military last month.

The Costa Rican leader acknowledged that "many differences" continued to keep the sides apart and that the parties will have to show "flexibility to bring themselves closer" to agreement.

A diplomatic source told AFP the delegations continue to remain apart on the issue of Zelaya's return.

US officials have already warned that any attempt to return could jeopardize negotiations between his and Micheletti's representatives.

"Tensions are very high," US State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in Washington.

Zelaya tried two weeks ago to enter Honduras on a Venezuelan jet but was prevented from landing at the main airport by Honduran military vehicles parked on the runway.

Zelaya's strongest ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said the ousted head of state will be restored to power.

"Zelaya is going to enter Honduras, let's see what those thugs do," Chavez said, referring to Micheletti government.

Rumors have swirled that Zelaya might try to cross over into Honduras by land from Nicaragua, possibly with Venezuelan or Nicaraguan military units.

But Rixi Moncada, a spokeswoman for Zelaya said the ousted Honduran leader had accepted Arias' plea for a delay.

"We have have accepted Friday, July 24 as the day when Zelaya should return to the republic," Moncada said.

Meanwhile, protestors in Tegucigalpa blocked roads Saturday, including some around the capital. Some 2,000 filled a southern boulevard, yelling "What's our president's name? Manuel Zelaya!"

In the north, altercations between opposing groups of demonstrators resulted in violence that left several protestors with minor injuries.

Honduras's military was on alert.

Source: AFP

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