Mediator to propose reconciliation gvt in Honduras

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – The mediator in Honduras' political crisis said he will propose a national reconciliation government during the next round of talks, while ousted President Manuel Zelaya prepared a second bid to return home to reclaim power.

Negotiations to end the standoff over a June 28 military-backed coup have increasingly come under fire, with Zelaya's supporters saying they will declare them failed if he is not reinstated during Saturday's talks and Cuba's Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez criticizing them as a U.S.-backed trap.

Zelaya's foreign minister, Patricia Rodas, said late Thursday that the exiled president was en route to Honduras to set up an alternative seat of government somewhere in the country from which to wage a "final battle" against coup leaders. Interim President Roberto Micheletti has vowed to arrest Zelaya if he returns.

With fears of conflict rising, the chief mediator, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, acknowledged the urgency of getting a deal quickly, saying that "we must remember that time is gold."

"I am going to propose various ideas at the talks; for example installing a government of national reconciliation, a coalition of key ministers such as of finance, security, the interior or government. I'll see if we can talk of amnesties and for whom," Arias said in an interview with the radio program, Nuestra Voz.

Arias, who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for helping end Central America's civil wars, said a proposal to advance Honduras' elections from the scheduled November date was not considered necessary.

Delegations representing Zelaya and Micheletti are expected to join the second round of talks Saturday in Costa Rica under Arias' guidance, but hopes for a resolution appear slim.

When he was last seen in public, Zelaya vowed to return if Saturday's talks don't immediately result in his reinstatement and he said Hondurans have a constitutional right to launch an insurrection against an illegitimate government.

Rodas reinforced that, saying Zelaya's delegation has nothing to negotiate. It will simply demand that the "illegal regime surrender peacefully," and if it doesn't, Zelaya's side will declare the mediation to have failed, she said.

Micheletti, the former congressional leader who was sworn in to serve out the final months of Zelaya's term, offered Wednesday to step down if there were guarantees that Zelaya would not return to power.

Arias rejected that proposal, saying the reinstatement of Zelaya was necessary.

But Micheletti on Thursday repeated his refusal to consider Zelaya regaining the presidency.

"If he comes and presents himself to authorities, he is welcome in our country. But if he comes with the intention of starting a revolutionary movement then he will find a people disposed to do anything," Micheletti said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged "a peaceful, negotiated resolution" and said all involved should "refrain from actions that could result in violence."

The State Department has tried to avoid a public role in the negotiations, saying Arias is directing the effort. But some Latin American leftist leaders are increasingly bashing the U.S. role in encouraging the negotiations.

In an essay published late Thursday, Fidel Castro dismissed the Costa Rica talks as having allowed Honduras' de facto leaders to become more entrenched.

"The Costa Rica peace plan was suggested by the office of the State Department to contribute to the consolidation of the military coup," the former Cuban president wrote.

Associated Press writers Carlos Valdez in La Paz, Bolivia, Freddy Cuevas in Tegucigalpa, Marianela Jimenez in Costa Rica, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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