Honduran amnesty proposal: breakthrough, or false start?

Interim President Robert Michelletti has proposed allowing ousted President Zelaya to return with amnesty – as long as he steps down as leader.

MEXICO CITY – In the latest act of a political drama full of false starts and building anticipation that has been deflated at each turn, a new plan by Honduran interim President Roberto Micheletti to resolve the two-month old crisis in Honduras is being touted as a breakthrough.

A negotiator for Mr. Micheletti, who was sworn in after Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by the military and exiled June 28, said that a new plan introduced Thursday would grant Mr. Zelaya amnesty, allowing him to return without facing arrest, as had previously been threatened.

Micheletti also offered to step down as president - as long as Zelaya offers to do the same. Charges against Zelaya include treason and abuse of authority.

But no matter how much the offer is spun as a new advance, it is unlikely to do much, if anything, to solve the crisis. A senior US State Department official had told reporters earlier that "the return of Zelaya as the elected president, and to finish out his term, is still a core tenet" of any solution.

Plus, if both men stepped down, the presidency, under the Honduran Constitution, would go to the next in line, which in this case, is the head of the Supreme Court – the same institution that supported Zelaya's ouster.

The Organization of American States was in Honduras earlier in the week to promote the San Jose Accord, the mediation offer by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. But the interim government continued to reject the return of Zelaya as president.

To step up pressure, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is considering further sanctions, after her staff, according to a State Department official, recommended that the Zelaya ouster in Honduras be labeled a "military coup," a legal determination that would mean the suspension of $215 million in US aid. Some Hondurans, including Zelaya, have balked at the "lukewarm" response of the US.

In the meantime, groups such as Human Rights Watch are urging more international pressure in the face of allegations of human rights abuses that many fear will grow as long as a solution remains out of reach.

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