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Honduras rivals accept Costa Rican leader as mediator

US-backed move brings in Nobel laureate

Supporters of Honduras's ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, protested in Tegucigalpa yesterday. Zelaya said he was pleased with the naming of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as mediator. Supporters of Honduras's ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, protested in Tegucigalpa yesterday. Zelaya said he was pleased with the naming of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias as mediator. (Esteban Felix/Associated Press)
By Matthew Lee
Associated Press / July 8, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Both sides in Honduras’s leadership crisis yesterday signaled willingness to forge a diplomatic solution to the deadlock over the fate of President Manuel Zelaya, who was ousted last month in a coup.

Zelaya and interim Honduran leader Roberto Micheletti agreed to accept Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, a Nobel Peace laureate, as an international mediator. Arias’s appointment was backed by the United States and announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton after she met privately with Zelaya at the State Department.

Arias will conduct the mediation in Costa Rica, where Zelaya intends to travel from Washington, and Clinton said she expected the process to begin soon.

“It is our hope that through this dialogue mechanism overseen by President Arias that there can be a restoration of democratic, constitutional order, a peaceful resolution of this matter that will enable the Honduran people to see the restoration of democracy and a more peaceful future going forward,’’ Clinton said.

Zelaya said he was pleased with Arias’s appointment. “I have accepted Dr. Arias’s mediation,’’ he told reporters after seeing Clinton. He added that the step showed “the international community is still supporting democracy in Honduras.’’

Meanwhile, in Honduras, Micheletti, who had vowed not to negotiate until “things return to normal,’’ appeared to open some space for a settlement to the crisis that began on June 28 when Zelaya was detained by the military and forced into exile.

Arias “is a man with a lot of credibility in the world,’’ Micheletti told HRN radio. “We are open to dialogue. We want to be heard.’’

Micheletti said he would send a delegation soon to Costa Rica, although he stressed that the meeting “doesn’t mean that Zelaya will be allowed to return.’’ Still, his tone was less belligerent than in recent days, when officials promised to arrest Zelaya on charges including treason as soon as he sets foot on Honduran soil.

Micheletti did not repeat his earlier insistence that Zelaya’s return is not negotiable, though he did say that Zelaya broke the law. The new government has threatened to arrest Zelaya for 18 alleged criminal acts, including treason and failing to implement more than 80 laws approved by Honduran lawmakers since he took office in 2006.

In another hint of possible compromise, a Honduran Supreme Court official said yesterday that political amnesty for Zelaya is possible.

Arias won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for helping broker an end to Central America’s civil wars.

Clinton said she was “heartened’’ that Zelaya had agreed to Arias’s mediation and would not again try to force his way back to Honduras as he did over the weekend.

Zelaya, a wealthy rancher who moved to the left after his election and allied himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, made an unsuccessful attempt to return home on Sunday in a move that sparked clashes between his supporters and security forces at the Tegucigalpa airport and left at least one person dead

Clinton would not discuss specifics of the mediation process, which she said would begin soon, but a senior US official said one option being considered would be to forge a compromise under which Zelaya would be allowed to return and serve out his remaining six months in office with limited powers.

Zelaya, in return, would pledge to drop his aspirations for a constitutional change that might allow him to run for another term, the official said.