- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 19, 2009

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica | The chief negotiator in Honduran crisis talks on Saturday proposed reinstating ousted President Manuel Zelaya at the head of a national reconciliation government, early elections and a general amnesty as a way out of a deadlock over a coup.

Many of the proposals made by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias at U.S.-backed talks have already been rejected by one side or the other in the dispute over Honduras’ June 28 military-backed coup, which has become a key test for democracy in Latin America and for U.S. diplomacy in the region.

“These agreements must be adopted as soon as possible, because each day that goes by increases the weight on the shoulders of an innocent people,” Mr. Arias said in a statement distributed to reporters.

Mr. Arias, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987 for helping end Central America’s wars, said that under his seven-point plan, Mr. Zelaya would return to Honduras’ presidency, but cede control of the armed forces to an electoral court a month before elections, which would be moved forward a month to late October. The unity government would include representatives of Honduras’ main political parties.

Other points of the plan call for an amnesty for all political crimes committed before and after the coup and Mr. Zelaya’s agreement to not hold a referendum on retooling the constitution - the proposal that sparked the coup. An international commission would monitor compliance with the accord.

Mr. Zelaya agreed with the proposal with a condition, but the interim government of President Roberto Micheletti rejected the plan, Reuters news agency reported.

“We agree with it, but only as long as all the powers of the state are integrated into it,” Mr. Zelaya told Radio Globo. Mr. Micheletti said Mr. Zelaya cannot be reinstated to finish his term.

The talks in Costa Rica’s capital are taking place under extreme pressure after Mr. Zelaya issued an ultimatum that if he is not returned to the presidency by the end of Saturday, he will declare the talks a failure and return to Honduras to set up a parallel government. Mr. Micheletti has vowed to arrest him on arrival.

Delegates began arriving in San Jose early Saturday for the talks, which have the backing of the Obama administration, the Organization of American States and much of the world community, though some leftist leaders have denounced them as a U.S.-backed trap for Mr. Zelaya.

The ousted Honduran leader said the midnight deadline for his return to the presidency is not negotiable.

“If at that time, there is no resolution to that end, I will consider the negotiations in Costa Rica a failure,” Mr. Zelaya said at a press conference Friday night at the Honduran Embassy in Nicaragua. “I am going back to Honduras, but I am not going to give you the date, hour or place, or say if I’m going to enter through land, air or sea.”

Mr. Zelaya’s wife, Xiomara Castro, implied the return was imminent, telling demonstrators in the Honduran capital Saturday: “President Zelaya will be here in a few hours, despite the bayonets.”

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