Diplomats report slow progress in post-coup talks

Negotiators seeking to end the standoff between Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Micheletti and ousted president Manuel Zelaya say they have made some progress, though talks remain deadlocked on the issue of Zelaya's return to power.


REUTERS - Negotiators in Honduras' post-coup standoff left talks smiling on Friday and de facto leader Roberto Micheletti said he was content with progress to end the three month crisis.

The military putsch that removed leftist Zelaya on June 28 triggered Central America's worst crisis in years and has put to the test U.S. President Barack Obama's promise of a new era of engagement with Latin America.

Tensions soared two weeks ago when Zelaya slipped back into the country and sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy. Troops have besieged him there ever since.

Despite progress made on Friday in talks begun this week, the two camps have yet to touch on the core issue -- returning Zelaya to power before elections next month.

"They have now discussed four points and we are content," Micheletti told reporters from the presidential palace he has occupied since soldiers exiled Zelaya at gunpoint.

"Dialogue will resolve the problem in Honduras," he said.

Negotiators representing the deposed president and the de facto president left a Tegucigalpa hotel sharing smiles and saying progress had been made in their third day of talks.

"We have advanced 60 percent," said Vilma Morales, a member of Micheletti's team and former Supreme Court president. "I agree totally," said Mayra Mejia, representing Zelaya.

About 100 Zelaya supporters protesting outside the hotel were chased off by police using tear gas and a water cannon.

Oct. 15 deadline

Earlier, Zelaya told Reuters he did not trust Micheletti's motives but said he would give talks a chance until Oct. 15.

"I am not optimistic about the conduct or political will of the de facto leaders, who hold on to power by force," he said by telephone from the Brazilian embassy, where he is surrounded by soldiers who will arrest him if he leaves.

"You always have to promote dialogue and never end it," he said.

Micheletti angrily rejects demands from other countries, including Honduras' traditional ally, the United States, that Zelaya be reinstated.

"They have started discussing the easiest stuff, leaving the most serious themes until last," said political analyst Juan Ramon Martinez.

Other analysts say there is hope that dealing with the easier issues will allow the two sides to reach agreement later on returning Zelaya to power.

Micheletti says his rival was legally removed from office for violating the constitution by trying to extend presidential term limits to stay in power beyond four years.

He also criticizes Zelaya's close ties to Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez. 

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