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Zelaya, de facto leaders resume talks in Honduras
Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:47pm EDT
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By Sean Mattson
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and de facto rulers in power since a June coup returned to the negotiating table on Thursday, under pressure from U.S. officials who said time is running out to resolve the political crisis.
A team led by Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon and Dan Restrepo, Washington's special assistant for Western Hemisphere affairs, is in Tegucigalpa for a last-ditch effort to broker a resolution to the impasse, after Zelaya pulled his negotiators out of the most recent round of talks last week.
"We are interested in helping the negotiators and political leaders come to an agreement that is needed not just by Honduras but by the international community," Shannon told a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa.
"Time is running out. We only have a month. We need an agreement as soon as possible," he said.
The coffee-producing Central American country has been diplomatically isolated since Zelaya was toppled by soldiers in a dawn coup on June 28 and flown to exile on a military plane.
Attempts at reaching a deal have floundered so far over the issue of whether Zelaya can be returned to power ahead of a presidential election scheduled for November 29.
The high-level U.S. team met both with de facto leader Roberto Micheletti and Zelaya, who has been holed up at the heavily guarded Brazilian Embassy in the capital since sneaking back in to the country last month.
Shannon called the situation "difficult," but in a sign the United States is stepping up its involvement, he sat in on Thursday's talks and said his delegation would stay on an extra day to help Hondurans broker a deal.
ZELAYA SUPPORTERS PROTEST
A march of hundreds of pro-Zelaya protesters near the hotel where the talks were underway was broken up by police in riot gear firing tear gas, a Reuters photographer at the scene said.
Human rights groups have documented major abuses by the de facto government and say free and fair elections will be impossible after Micheletti curbed civil liberties and temporarily shut opposition news outlets last month.
U.S. President Barack Obama, seeking better relations with Latin America, has been criticized for not doing enough to pressure Micheletti, allowing Latin American governments and the Organization of American States take the lead.
Zelaya pulled out of talks after weeks of negotiations failed to resolve the issue of whether or not he can be reinstated. The move prompted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to telephone both sides and send down the emergency delegation.
Both sides agreed to return to negotiations but it was not clear if new proposals would be on the table.
Micheletti's de facto government, which is not recognized internationally, lodged legal proceedings against Brazil at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Wednesday for interfering in Honduras' internal affairs by sheltering Zelaya. Continued...
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