Exiled Honduran president Manuel Zelaya sought to increase pressure on his country’s interim government, promising to camp out across the border in Nicaragua with his supporters and urging Washington to slap tough sanctions on coup leaders.
Zelaya hugged and clasped hands with dozens of supporters who trickled in on foot to this mountain pass connecting Honduras and Nicaragua on Saturday. Yellow school buses shuttled the Hondurans to spend the night at a gymnasium in the nearby Nicaraguan town of El Ocotal before returning to the border yesterday.
The Honduran Defense Ministry posted a statement on the armed forces’ Web site saying that it supports “a solution to the problems our country is experiencing, through a process of negotiation within the framework of the San Jose accord,” a reference to a proposal made by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias during talks that ended in a stalemate.
Zelaya is demanding he be reinstated as president following the coup, which has been widely repudiated around the globe. The interim government of Roberto Micheletti has opposed Zelaya’s reinstatement as president, though not his return, and says that other compromises proposed by Arias are up to Honduras’ courts, congress and the national prosecutor investigating charges against the deposed president.
Zelaya, who was toppled by a military coup and flown into exile on June 28, on Saturday made his second symbolic trip in two days to this remote border crossing.
Speaking through a megaphone, the 56-year-old deposed leader told his supporters that he would set up camp and demanded that his family in Honduras be allowed to meet him.
“We are going to stay here this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow,” he said.
By late Saturday, some 300 Zelaya supporters had gathered, many having sneaked across the border from Honduras using footpaths through the forest to avoid border guards and military roadblocks.
An evening curfew was in effect along the Honduran side of the border.
Zelaya said he would commute back and forth between the border crossing and El Ocotal and probably won’t try another border crossing like the brief, symbolic trip a few meters into Honduran territory he performed on Friday.
He said he feared soldiers would attack his supporters if he went any farther.
Soldiers did not approach Zelaya during the Friday crossing as he lifted a chain marking the frontier and took a few strides into Honduran territory, where the interim government has charged him with violating the Constitution and has vowed to arrest him. He retreated into Nicaragua less than 30 minutes later.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the trip “reckless” and said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order.
Zelaya criticized the US government for not doing enough to restore him to power and Clinton for her comment. He urged Washington to impose tougher sanctions, targeting specific people involved in the coup.
US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Zelaya intends to come to Washington tomorrow “for further discussions.” However, Zelaya said there has been no confirmation yet on whether he will meet with Clinton.
Meanwhile, a delegation of US lawmakers led by Republican Representative Connie Mack planned to start a fact-finding mission in Honduras over the weekend.