Interim Honduran leader resists diplomats' pleas

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras' coup-installed leader resisted calls by diplomats from across the hemisphere to reinstate ousted President Manuel Zelaya, at one point angrily telling the visitors they "don't know the truth or don't want to know it."

During sometimes confrontational talks with interim President Roberto Micheletti and his ministers, representatives from the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean took turns on Wednesday urging the Micheletti camp to reconsider its position, but no breakthroughs were announced.

"Today we saw Hondurans sitting together, working on a Honduran solution," Ronald Robinson, a Jamaican representing the Caribbean Community, said during one session of talks with Honduran representatives. "For me, I thought it was a good step in the right direction."

The June 28 military-backed coup that toppled Zelaya has paralyzed this impoverished Central American nation with street protests, foreign aid cuts, diplomatic isolation and a standoff between rival claimants to the presidency. The crisis deepened when Zelaya slipped back into the country in late September and took refuge with dozens of supporters in the Brazilian Embassy.

Wednesday's negotiations began behind closed doors with representatives of Zelaya and the interim government in the Honduran capital, but exploded into the open later in the day with a televised confrontation between Micheletti and the foreign envoys in the presidential palace.

Micheletti, his voice bristling with rage, scolded the diplomats for refusing to recognize what he insisted was the lawful removal of Zelaya under the Honduran constitution and for isolating his country and suspending aid to one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

"You don't know the truth or you don't want to know it," Micheletti said. "You don't want to know what happened before June 28."

He urged them to "reflect on the damage you are doing to a country that has done nothing to you."

The diplomats sat stone-faced, a few rubbing their eyes in apparent fatigue during his outburst. Canada's minister of state for the Americas, Peter Kent, told Micheletti that the international community respects the Honduran constitution, but it oppose the military's ouster of Zelaya.

"However it happened, a mistake was made on June 28," Kent said. "A democratically elected leader, whatever his behavior in recent years, was undemocratically removed."

The delegates, brought to Honduras by the Organization of American States, were scheduled to leave Thursday.

After the talks with Micheletti, the delegation spoke with Zelaya in the Brazilian Embassy.

Tensions rose before Wednesday's meeting, with riot police firing tear gas to disperse about 200 Zelaya supporters protesting near the U.S. and Brazilian embassies.

Micheletti and his supporters say Zelaya's military-backed ouster was legal because it was sanctioned by Honduras' Supreme Court after he defied of a court order that he drop a referendum on changing the constitution. Most of the international community maintains the coup was illegal and must be reversed.

"We are not here to create a debate. We are here to find concrete solutions to a situation that cannot be prolonged," OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said before the round of meetings started.

Insulza presented a proposal to restore Zelaya as head of a unity government until his term ends in January and offer amnesty to both the coup leaders and the deposed president, who faces abuse of power and other charges in Honduras.

The proposal, which also would require Zelaya to abandon any ambitions to change the constitution, is very similar to one proposed months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, known as the San Jose Accord, and rejected by the interim government.

"I sense that everybody involved understands that we are nearly out of time and this crisis needs to be resolved now," Kent said.