More talks in Honduran crisis, but no deal sighted

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Allies of the rival claimants to the Honduran presidency are continuing face-to-face talks on ending the paralyzing political standoff, after visiting diplomats failed to achieve a breakthrough.

Three representatives of ousted President Manuel Zelaya and three representing the rival who replaced him in a coup, interim President Roberto Micheletti, will be ensconced in a hotel in the capital Friday for a second day discussing ways to end the crisis.

They will be there through the weekend, or longer, if necessary, said Mayra Mejia, one of Zelaya's representatives.

"We have lost a lot of time," Mejia said Thursday after leaving the closed-door negotiations, the first face-to-face talks between the factions since July. "The solution has to be in the short term."

The participants in the "table of dialogue" that was convened by a diplomatic mission sponsored by the Organization of American States reached consensus on 25 percent of the issues, Mejia said, but she wouldn't disclose which ones, saying they agreed to keep it private for now.

Diplomats pushed the two sides to resume negotiations, and then left them to iron out a solution that the OAS and others in the international community hope will result in Zelaya returning to serve out his term, which ends in January.

"This is going to be an exclusively Honduran dialogue," Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno said as the OAS delegation left the country. "This is a divided family and they have to reconcile."

The June 28 military-backed coup that toppled Zelaya has paralyzed the impoverished Central American nation. Zelaya's supporters hold near daily protests, and the U.S. and other nations have suspended foreign aid and imposed diplomatic isolation on the interim administration.

The crisis intensified when Zelaya slipped back into the country last month and set up camp in the Brazilian Embassy with dozens of supporters.

Governments throughout the world insist Zelaya must serve out the final months of his term. And they want him restored to office in time to prepare for a Nov. 29 presidential election. That had been scheduled before he was ousted when he tried to go ahead with a referendum on changing the constitution that the Supreme Court ruled illegal.

The international community backs a mediator's proposal from July that would put Zelaya back in the presidency, but with limited powers in a coalition government. The plan also calls for an amnesty that would prevent Zelaya from being prosecuted over the referendum and keep him from going after those who overthrew him.

Micheletti has been unwilling to allow Zelaya's return and wants to go ahead with the election without him. The interim government and its supporters insist Zelaya was a corrupt and inept leader and they had a right to remove him under the constitution — an argument the United States, the European Union and others have rejected.

Canada's minister of state for the Americas, Peter Kent, said Honduras cannot hold the Nov. 29 ballot with international support if Zelaya isn't returned to office soon.

"We are talking days, perhaps weeks, but we really need to get an agreement in place," Kent told The Associated Press.

Still, he said the OAS-sponsored visit wasn't a failure.

"We had both sides speak to each other in a positive way," Kent said. "This was really only the first step in a much longer process."

In a statement released at the official close of its mission, the OAS group urged the interim government to "resolve the problem of the Brazilian Embassy," where Zelaya and his band of supporters are virtual prisoners, surrounded by soldiers in cramped and uncomfortable conditions.

"The truth is they don't want a solution," 50-year-old protester Maritza Burgos said of the interim government. "They want to be in power, stay in power and keep President Manuel Zelaya, the only Honduran president, from getting back in office."