- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 25, 2009

LAS MANOS, Nicaragua | Ousted President Manuel Zelaya took a few symbolic steps inside Honduras on Friday but then backed away from a confrontation with Honduran security forces waiting to arrest him.

In a move described as “reckless” by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the ousted leader in his trademark cowboy hat briefly crossed into Honduras in this small town on the border with Nicaragua.

Pausing to give live telephone interviews and surrounded by a pack of journalists, he approached the chain dividing the two Central American nations, stepped over and held the chain over his head in triumph for a moment.

He then touched a sign saying “Welcome to Honduras” but, with troops and police standing just yards away, he said he did not want to proceed further out of “respect for the principles” of the military.

The leftist president was toppled and sent into exile in a June 28 coup.

The de facto government that replaced him insists he was removed legally and that he will face charges if he returns.

The U.S. government has condemned the coup and backed a Costa Rican plan to end the crisis that calls for Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement, but it also advised him not to enter Honduras without a political deal in place.

Mrs. Clinton said Mr. Zelaya’s bid to return to his country was “reckless” and urged all sides to reach a negotiated, peaceful solution to the crisis.

“We have consistently urged all parties to avoid any provocative action that could lead to violence. President Zelaya’s effort to reach the border is reckless,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters. “It does not contribute to the broader effort to restore democratic and constitutional order in the Honduras crisis.”

Talks this week in Costa Rica about the standoff appear to have fallen apart, raising the threat of violence inside Honduras.

Ignoring calls not to provoke tension, Mr. Zelaya left the Nicaraguan town of Esteli on Friday driving a jeep.

“We have to reverse this coup and I plan to do it peacefully. With my presence in Honduras, the people will surround me and the soldiers will lower their rifles,” Mr. Zelaya said in Nicaragua before going to the border.

When he tried to fly home earlier this month, one of his supporters was killed in clashes near the airport.

Honduran troops and police imposed a curfew near the border with Nicaragua on Friday, warning they would not be responsible for people caught up in any violence. Police in riot gear waited a short distance over the border and a helicopter flew overhead as Mr. Zelaya approached.

The ousted president, a logging magnate who draws support from unions and other leftists, called his family from the border, saying “I am on the Honduran side,” witnesses said.

Earlier, security forces fired tear gas at dozens of pro-Zelaya supporters trying to reach the border to greet the president near the coffee town of El Paraiso. Most Zelaya supporters were kept several miles back.

The United States and Latin American governments have demanded Mr. Zelaya’s reinstatement, but Honduras’ interim President Roberto Micheletti insists he will be detained for violating the constitution and other charges if he returns.

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