TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — Diplomats from around the hemisphere flew into Honduras on Wednesday and told the coup-imposed government to reinstate President Manuel Zelaya and restore democracy to the impoverished Central American country.
"We are not here to create a debate. We are here to find concrete solutions to a situation that cannot be prolonged," Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, said as talks began in the capital, Tegucigalpa.
Zelaya gave the negotiators an ultimatum, calling for the postponement of Nov. 29 presidential elections if he is not restored to office before Oct. 15. That proposal is certain to anger the interim government, which views the elections — scheduled before Zelaya's June 28 overthrow — as the best hope of moving past the crisis.
Insulza presented a proposed agreement that would restore Zelaya as head of a unity government and offer amnesty to both the coup leaders and the deposed president, who faces abuse of power and other charges stemming from his defiance of a court order that he drop a referendum on changing the constitution.
The proposal, which also requires Zelaya to abandon any ambitions to change the constitution, is similar to one proposed months ago by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and rejected by the interim government.
Tensions rose before Wednesday's meeting began as riot police fired tear gas to disperse about 200 Zelaya supporters protesting near the U.S. and Brazilian embassies. Zelaya has been holed up in the Brazilian Embassy since sneaking back into the country from his forced exile.
Delegates from the United States, Canada and eight Latin American countries were mediating negotiations between representatives of Zelaya, who was ousted by the military three months ago, and interim President Roberto Micheletti, who has the support of Honduras' Congress and Supreme Court but has faced intense international pressure to allow his predecessor's return.
Canada's minister of state for the Americas, Peter Kent, said it was imperative for an agreement to be reached before the November elections, which many countries in the Americas have warned would not be recognized if Zelaya remains out of the power.
"I sense that everybody involved understands that we are nearly out of time and this crisis needs to be resolved now," Kent said.
Interim Vice President Marta Lorena Alvarado, however, said she did not expect an agreement Wednesday.
"It would be fantastic, but the problem is difficult and there are a lot of players. I don't think it will be today," she said.
She insisted that the world was too quick to condemn Zelaya ouster, which the Micheletti government argues was legal because it had the backing of Congress and the Supreme Court.
Still, she said, the two sides were "initiating conversations that had not occurred before and expectations are positive" for an eventual resolution.
Micheletti set an optimistic tone in a national address late Tuesday, saying the talks would address with a "new spirit" the main issues of dispute over the San Jose Accord, the plan originally brokered the Costa Rican president.
"I believe the time is right to intensify the national dialogue," he said in the brief speech, without going into specifics.
Zelaya warned that the interim government would seek to persuade the delegates to pursue a new plan that would prevent his return to office.
"We warn the ministers that the de facto regime is planning to stay in power longer and to deepen the crisis by preventing the return of the elected president and continuing the repression of the people," Zelaya said in a statement.
Zelaya was forced from office for trying to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution. His opponents charged he wanted to lift the charter's provision limiting presidents to a single term — an accusation he denies.
Zelaya has not announced any plans to leave his refuge at the Brazilian Embassy, and he was being represented in the talks by members of his deposed government.