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Military signals softening in Honduras crisis

Exiled President Zelaya has set up camp on the Nicaraguan border to keep up pressure on interim government.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 26, 2009

Ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya is escorted by Nicaraguan police officers in the border town of Las Manos, between Nicaragua and Honduras on Saturday.

Oswaldo Rivas/Reuters

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Mexico City

With mediation talks over the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya broken down last week, and international pressure failing to get the interim government to step down, everyone is asking: What's next?

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Mr. Zelaya crossed into his country Friday, and then set up a camp at the Nicaraguan border over the weekend, vowing to come back to the border as many times as necessary.

The interim government has vowed to arrest Zelaya on charges, including treason, after he was exiled by the military June 28 in what the international community has declared a coup, though leaders in Honduras maintain the move was legal. Many feared his return could spark widespread conflict.

Instead, the moment passed. The interim government shrugged it off as a publicity stunt and foreign leaders condemned the move, saying it will do nothing to get Honduras back on constitutional track.

"I don't think we've seen the final chapter yet," says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas, adding that Mr. Zelaya must weigh whether risking a full return, and potential jail time, is in his best interest. "He will keep pushing, and crossing the line, and string it out as long as possible. If he is in jail, he's out of the limelight."

On Friday, at a remote border crossing at Nicaragua, Zelaya, flanked by media, lifted a chain and briefly stepped across the border, declaring that his return showed that support for the interim government is waning.

Roberto Micheletti, who heads the interim government, quickly dismissed his return as "ill-conceived."

The move agitated some foreign leaders. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it "reckless." And Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States Secretary-General, urged Zelaya – as has the US – not to return home without a political agreement in place.

Despite international pressure, Zelaya returned to the border on Saturday.

"We are going to stand firm," Zelaya told a crowd of supporters and journalists who had gathered to see him. "Today we are going to set up camps here, with water and food. We are going to stay here this afternoon, tonight, and tomorrow morning."

If he does enter the country, the Micheletti government will have to decide whether to arrest him and risk "turning Zelaya into a martyr," says Mr. Farnsworth.

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