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Honduras military chiefs charged with 'coup.' Will Supreme Court take case?

Top military officers in Honduras are being charge with “abuse of power” in the expulsion of President Manuel Zelaya June 28. If the Supreme Court takes the case, it would be the first legal action against the armed forces since Mr. Zelaya’s ouster. Will it resolve the political crisis?

By Sara Mller LlanaStaff writer / January 7, 2010

Craig A. Kelly, left, diplomat for the US State Department, speaks with Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya in Brazil's embassy in Tegucigalpa, Tuesday. Zelaya, who was ousted in a military coup in June 2009, has been holed up in Brazil's embassy since Sept. 21.



Mexico City

In charging top military officers in Honduras for “abuse of power” in the expulsion of Manuel Zelaya June 28, prosecutors in the Central American nation are pushing forward with the first legal action against the armed forces since Mr. Zelaya’s ouster.

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But it remains far from certain that the charges – which the Supreme Court still must respond to and comes as lawmakers are set to discuss amnesty for the events of June 28 – will make little difference in the outcome of the region’s worst political crisis in decades.

“It is my sense that this is an exercise in window dressing,” says Kevin Casas-Zamora, the former vice president of Costa Rica and now at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It is not in the nature of the Honduran judiciary to try military commanders.”

Top military officers, including chief of staff Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, were charged with “abuse of power” by the Honduran attorney general Wednesday for the expulsion of Zelaya, who was arrested on the morning of June 28 and sent in a military plane to Costa Rica.
The Supreme Court has three days to agree to the charges and start a case. "We will submit ourselves to Honduran justice if necessary because we are men of the law," Gen. Vasquez was reported as saying in local Honduran media.

But many have dismissed the charges, including Zelaya, as a ploy. "Today, using a new stratagem, the attorney general who has equal or more responsibility as the soldiers, is presenting accusations... to achieve impunity for the soldiers by accusing them of minor crimes," Zelaya, who remains in the Brazilian embassy after sneaking back into Honduras in September, said in a statement, according to the AFP.

The interim government of Honduras, led by Roberto Micheletti, has long maintained that Zelaya’s ouster was not a coup, as condemned by the rest of the world, but a constitutional transfer of power.
Zelaya was arrested, with the backing of the Supreme Court and even members of his own party, for attempting to move forward with a vote to consider constitutional change. His critics said he was attempting to scrap term limits for presidents, which under the current constitution can only carry out a single term. Zelaya has denied that charge.