US diplomat back in Honduras seeking to heal rifts

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — U.S. State Department diplomat Craig Kelly returned to Honduras on Tuesday to make his fourth attempt in five months to reunite leaders in this bitterly divided nation.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Michael Stevens said Kelly “came to make intensive effort to achieve a breakthrough agreement” during a two-day visit.

Kelly met with ousted President Manuel Zelaya at the Brazilian Embassy, where he has been living since sneaking back into Honduras in late September.

Kelly also plans to meet with interim President Roberto Micheletti, who took power after Zelaya was ousted in June and is to cede his position in three weeks, and with the winner of the country’s Nov. 29 presidential election, Porfirio Lobo.

“I thank the United States for seeking a solution to Honduras’ problem … and that the United States is interested in having Micheletti leave the post as soon as possible,” Zelaya told the local Radio Globo station following his meeting with Kelly.

“Kelly assured me that his government does not support Micheletti and is seeking the possibility of the international community recognizing the new government”, Zelaya said, referring to Lobo.

“Washington recognizes that I am president of Honduras,” Zelaya said.

While Zelaya appears to have few remaining options — even negotiations to fly him out of Honduras to another country have stumbled — he remained unbowed, calling on supporters in a broadcast speech later to “not retreat one centimeter in the fight for their rights and social progress.”

Micheletti’s interim government has said Zelaya faces arrest on various charges if he leaves the embassy under any terms other than an asylum arrangement in another country. Zelaya’s term ends Jan. 27.

The Honduran crisis has been one of the biggest diplomatic challenges in Latin America for the Obama administration.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in Washington that “we are encouraged by comments by President-elect Lobo,” who has talked about national reconciliation.

But Crowley said Kelly “is there to communicate clearly to a variety of parties that there are still things that Honduras has to do” to restore the constitutional order and mend the divisions caused by the coup.

He mentioned a truth commission to sort out responsibilities in the coup, which interim government supporters said was triggered by Zelaya’s refusal to obey court rulings against his plan to hold a referendum on changing the constitution. Zelaya says he was illegally removed from office by his opponents.

“Most importantly, you need to have this truth commission that is part of a healing process that has to occur if Honduras is going to, to advance,” Crowley said.