Honduran judge charges top military chiefs in coup

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TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A Honduran judge on Thursday charged the country’s top military commanders with abuse of power for exiling President Manuel Zelaya in June.

Honduran Supreme Court President Jorge Rivera has ordered all six members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to remain in the country and testify in court next week. The charge carries a sentence of three to six years in prison.

The military chiefs, who wore their dress uniforms, met with Rivera for six hours before the charges were announced late Thursday. They didn’t speak to the news media.

“The army officers won’t be able to leave the country and will have to go to court periodically,” said prosecutor Mario Cabanas.

Last week, Honduras’ chief prosecutor, Luis Alberto Rubi, asked the Supreme Court to issue arrest warrants charging the top military commanders with abuse of power for sending Zelaya out of the country. The prosecutor’s case doesn’t question Zelaya’s June 28 ouster itself, only whether the military went too far in flying him to Costa Rica after he was arrested by armed soldiers in a dispute over a constitutional referendum.

Those named by the prosecutor include the head of the armed forces, Gen. Romeo Vasquez, and five other top-ranking military officers, including the air force chief, Gen. Javier Prince, and the navy commander, Gen. Juan Pablo Rodriguez.

The military commanders’ defense lawyer, Juan Carlos Sanchez, said there is enough evidence to show their innocence.

“We will concentrate on showing the facts and they (the military officers) want to face this process to prove the charges are baseless,” Sanchez said.

Outside the court, Dozens of Zelaya supporters booed the army officers as they went into the meeting with Rivera while a group of their relatives and supporters held signs of support.

President-elect Porfirio Lobo has said he supports granting amnesty both to Zelaya and to all of those involved in the coup. He takes office Jan. 27.

Zelaya has been holed up at the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into Honduras in September.