Talks yield signs of hope on Honduras stalemate

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Signs of progress have emerged from two days of talks and Honduras' rival factions plan to resume after a weekend break trying to resolve the bitter divide over the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya.

The factions did not claim to have resolved the crisis sparked by the June 28 coup, although representatives of both negotiating teams insisted Friday that the first face-to-face talks in months had achieved results.

Both Mayra Mejia, part of the three-member team that represents Zelaya, and Vilma Morales, who represents the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti, said talks yielded agreement on 60 percent of the issues under an international plan to resolve the crisis.

"I feel full of optimism," Morales, a former head of the Supreme Court, told reporters crowded into the lobby of the hotel hosting the private talks. "We've made progress on many points and on many very important points."

Mejia concurred, saying that "we've made substantial progress" in meetings that she described as "very cordial."

Both reiterated earlier statements that the negotiators had agreed not to discuss specific details until the talks are completed. They planned to discuss the issues within their own factions over a three-day recess and resume negotiations Tuesday.

Zelaya negotiator Juan Barahona, however, challenged the upbeat assessment. He said no agreement had been reached on the fundamental issue: whether the ousted leader could return to serve out the remaining months of his term.

"Yes, there are advances ... but they aren't on the important issues," said Barahona, an organizer of the protests that have roiled Honduras since the coup. "I'm still pessimistic, very pessimistic."

Mejia, the labor minister under Zelaya, declined to comment on Barahona's appraisal.

"All subjects are on the table and that's all we want to say right now," she said. "But we have made important advances."

Negotiations revolve around the San Jose Accord, which would restore Zelaya as head of a unity government until his term ends in January and offer amnesty to both coup leaders and the deposed president, who faces abuse of power and other charges in Honduras. Micheletti's government previously rejected the plan.

The international community has been pressuring the interim government to allow Zelaya's return before the Nov. 29 presidential election that was scheduled before the coup.

Before negotiations broke for the day, police fired tear gas and a water cannon at about 200 pro-Zelaya protesters who demonstrated outside the hotel. There were no arrests and apparently no major injuries, though many people rubbed their eyes or had tears streaming from their eyes because of the acrid smoke.

Zelaya remained holed up with dozens of supporters in the Brazilian Embassy, which has been his refuge since sneaking back into Honduras late last month.

Honduras has experienced near daily protests since the military-backed coup, which came after Zelaya pressed ahead with plans for a referendum on changing the constitution despite a Supreme Court order ruling the vote illegal. The U.S. and other nations have suspended foreign aid and imposed diplomatic isolation on the interim administration.

The interim government and its supporters insist Zelaya was a corrupt and inept leader and they had a right to remove him. They charge that Zelaya hoped to amend the constitution to repeal its one-term limit for presidents, which he denies.