Honduran power brokers, priests push talk plans

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Catholic Church leaders are weighing in on Honduras' coup stalemate with a proposal to jump-start negotiations, part of a growing movement by crisis-weary Hondurans to resolve the crisis and end the country's crippling isolation.

The coup-installed government, which has shrugged off international condemnation, now is coming under increasing pressure to negotiate from Honduran political, civic and business leaders who had supported the ouster of left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya.

Several compromise proposals have surfaced as Honduras struggles to emerge from 10 tumultuous days that saw deposed President Manuel Zelaya sneak back into the country and mount his boldest challenge yet to the interim government, which responded by imposing curfews, suspending civil liberties, banning demonstrations and closing opposition media.

Bishop Juan Jose Pineda said Wednesday his plan would broaden talks to include civic groups that have led street protests both in support of and against Zelaya, with the process guided by one Honduran and one foreign mediator.

Pineda said the talks would revolve around a compromise proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, which would provide amnesty for the coup participants and reinstate Zelaya to the presidency with limited powers to serve out his term that runs into January.

"We believe we have to look for a Honduran solution," Pineda said during a presentation of the plan on Channel 10 television.

The bishop has acted as a go-between for Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has refused to meet face-to-face with the ousted president.

John Biehl, special adviser to the Organization of American States, said Wednesday he sensed some movement toward talks.

"The moment has arrived for tempers to cool and reason to reign, and that's when errors will start being corrected," Biehl said. "I have found a strong willingness for dialogue," adding he had heard of proposals to return Zelaya to office briefly.

Some of the business and political leaders who backed the coup, under intense U.S. pressure to sway the government toward restoring Zelaya, are now open to considering the possibility of returning him to office with limited powers.

Porfirio Lobo, a top conservative contender in November's presidential election, announced that Congress would be open to passing reforms needed to make an accord work.

"If we have to reform some laws, I don't think Congress is going to be an obstacle," added Lobo, whose party is the second largest legislative bloc, with 55 seats in the 128-seat Congress.

As part of the attempt to return to normality, Micheletti's government announced Wednesday it was dropping the nighttime curfew in force since Zelaya secretly entered Honduras on Sept. 21, took refuge at the Brazilian Embassy and called on his followers to protest.

But Micheletti dragged his heels on lifting an emergency decree that curbed civil liberties despite demands from the political elite — including Congress and the country's electoral court — that he revoke it. Micheletti suggested it could remain in effect for up to two more days.

Micheletti also largely dismissed a compromise promoted by an influential business leader, who suggested bringing in 3,000 U.N. peacekeepers or troops from conservative-led countries to enforce any agreement to restore Zelaya temporarily to office and ensure he does not overstep limits on his authority.

Micheletti said that part of the plan was unworkable, because it would violate the constitution.

"This involves things we cannot do, because our constitution does not permit it," he said, referring to the presence of foreign troops or U.N. peacekeepers. "But of course we will take into consideration the points he has expressed in his proposal, in his dream to bring peace to Hondurans."

"That's a decision for him to make, if he wants to stay there seven years, five years," Micheletti said.

A member of the special warfare command poses for photographs as he parachutes from a helicopter near Seoul. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak