- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

A weeklong crisis over who governs Honduras entered a new phase Sunday night when the interim government prevented ousted President Manuel Zelaya from landing in the country.

The Associated Press reported that the Venezuelan plane carrying Mr. Zelaya could not land because the runway was blocked by military vehicles and soldiers.

He flew to El Salvador after a stop in Nicaragua and vowed to try again to return home Monday or Tuesday.

Earlier Sunday, the Obama administration said it welcomed an offer by Mr. Zelaya’s de facto replacement to negotiate with the Organization of American States (OAS).

A senior administration official said in a conference call organized by the State Department that the offer by the interim government, headed by Roberto Micheletti, was a “product” of the OAS’ decision to suspend Honduras’ membership late Saturday. The U.S. official spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject.

The official said the suspension would come at a “considerable cost” for the Central American country both diplomatically and economically because Honduras relies heavily on trade and other cooperation with neighboring countries.

The Obama administration has suggested that it would cut off its $95 million in annual aid to Honduras if Mr. Zelaya is not allowed to complete his term, which was due to end in January.

However, the interim government’s foreign minister, Enrique Ortez, told reporters Sunday that Honduras would not permit “the return to power of Manuel Zelaya; that is not negotiable,” Reuters news agency reported.

Mr. Zelaya had sought to return home, accompanied by U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann, a leftist Nicaraguan priest and a former foreign minister.

“I am the commander of the armed forces, elected by the people, and I ask the armed forces to comply with the order to open the airport so that there is no problem in landing and embracing with my people,” Mr. Zelaya said from the plane, according to the AP.

Mr. Micheletti refused to permit the plane to land.

“We are the authentic representatives of the people,” he told a news conference, according to the AP.

Mr. Micheletti also charged that Nicaragua had moved troops toward the border to intimidate Honduras, an accusation Nicaragua rejected.

Tegucigalpa’s Roman Catholic archbishop and Honduras’ human-rights commissioner urged Mr. Zelaya not to return in order to avoid causing bloodshed, the AP reported.

The crisis began a week ago when Mr. Zelaya defied a ruling by the Honduran high court and insisted on holding a referendum on whether he could pursue a second four-year term in office.

The Honduran military responded by removing him from the presidential palace in his pajamas and putting him on a plane to Costa Rica.

No country has recognized the government that replaced Mr. Zelaya.

The crisis has united frequent foes such as the United States and Venezuela. In addition to the OAS, the United Nations has condemned the action.

Mr. Zelaya developed close ties to leftist governments, including that of Nicaragua and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, and alienated members of the elite in Honduras, a poor nation of 7 million that exports coffee, textiles and bananas.

The United States worked behind the scenes to try to prevent the coup. The U.S. official said Sunday that Washington wants Mr. Zelaya to complete his term.

“We view this [offer] as positive,” the official said of the interim Honduran government’s offer to negotiate. “It could create a basis for continued movement by the OAS on diplomatic initiatives.”

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