By Francisco Jara (AFP) – Jul 21, 2009
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The increasingly defiant de facto leaders in Honduras Tuesday gave 72 hours to staff from Venezuela's embassy to leave, accusing them of threatening to use force and meddling in internal affairs.
Venezuelan diplomats swiftly rejected the expulsion order, saying it was issued by leaders of an illegitimate government that ousted President Manuel Zelaya in a coup late last month.
The toughened stance came after negotiations with Zelaya hit deadlock and amid international pressure for his reinstatement.
The European Union announced Tuesday that it would limit contacts with the interim government -- which backed the army ouster of Zelaya on June 28 -- following a new funding freeze.
But Roberto Micheletti, the man who took power after troops expelled Zelaya, has maintained his hardline position and promised Zelaya will be arrested if he returns to Honduras as he intends to.
Nobel Peace laureate and crisis mediator Oscar Arias on Sunday warned that Honduras was on the brink of civil war and pleaded for crisis talks to resume after a 72-hour break.
Zelaya, who has promised on various occasions to return to Honduras, said Tuesday he would come back with a crowd gathered in neighboring Central American countries after Thursday, when Arias' deadline was due to expire.
"I have a large border with El Salvador, I have a border with Guatemala and with Nicaragua. The journey could be by air, land or sea," Zelaya said on Honduran radio from exile in Nicaragua.
Representatives of the interim leadership on Sunday rejected a proposal by Arias that Zelaya return as president in charge of a "reconciliation" government.
The de facto leaders sought to expel Venezuelan embassy staff due to "threats of the use of force (and) meddling in internal affairs," said a statement from the foreign ministry.
All Honduran embassy staff would also leave their diplomatic mission in Caracas, the statement said.
Venezuela, like the rest of the international community, has not recognized the de facto Honduras government, and its charge d'affaires Uriel Vargas said the staff would stay put.
"We do not recognize the government of Roberto Micheletti. It is a de facto government, led by a coup and supported with bayonets," Vargas told reporters in Tegucigalpa.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a key backer to Zelaya, who turned increasingly to the political left after taking power in 2005.
Chavez said Tuesday that Zelaya's expulsion had also been an attack on Venezuela and regional leftist countries.
Sweden, current holder of the EU presidency, said in a statement that the EU would continue to restrict political contacts with the de facto government "until a peaceful negotiated solution has been found."
The 27-nation bloc on Monday suspended 65.5 million euros in aid to Honduran institutions, although not humanitarian aid.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt also said that the mediation by Arias was the only option at the moment.
"We have to support him," Bildt told members of the European parliament in Brussels. "All other alternatives are pretty bad."
The US government warned Monday that stalled talks would have real consequences for the impoverished Central American nation, as aid freezes accompanied diplomatic isolation.
Washington has frozen military aid to Tegucigalpa, but it has also warned Zelaya against rash moves that might jeopardize dialogue.
A spectacular and unsuccessful return attempt by Zelaya on July 5 on a plane borrowed from Venezuela's Chavez sparked clashes between soldiers and his supporters that left at least one dead and dozens injured.
Zelaya said he and his allies were organizing internal resistance in the country to prepare his return. Several hundred of his supporters marched in the Honduran capital Tuesday.
Many Honduran lawmakers, judges and military leaders believe Zelaya triggered the country's crisis by pushing ahead with a June 28 referendum, without congressional approval, on changing the constitution.
Copyright © 2014 AFP. All rights reserved. More »