U.N. calls for restoration of ousted Honduran leader

McClatchy NewspapersJune 30, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya formally began his campaign to reclaim his office Tuesday, making appeals to diplomats and Obama administration officials in the capital and in New York.

The first stop on Zelaya's reclamation tour was the United Nations, where the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution, that denounced Sunday's coup and called for restoring Zelaya to power. General Assembly resolutions are largely symbolic and do not carry the weight of law.

Zelaya, in a rambling speech, recounted to U.N. diplomats the early morning coup in which the Honduran military rousted him from the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa and whisked him onto a plane — still in his pajamas — to Costa Rica.

He said that he heard gunshots, and his 21-year-old daughter tried to hide from the invading troops. Zelaya said he tried to use his cell phone to find out what was going on, but soldiers warned him that was a bad idea.

"I had eight rifles pointed at my chest," Zelaya said. "I was told, 'If you do not put down that phone we will kill you. We have official orders.'"

Zelaya called his ouster and unforgivable "act of barbarism." The General Assembly delegates gave him a standing, but brief ovation.

Zelaya arrived at the U.N. delegate's entrance under a bright and blazing late-morning sun. Looking confident, polished and dressed in a navy blue suit, the president was greeted by General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto of Nicaragua.

Then, as D'Escoto proceeded to usher Zelaya into U.N. headquarters, Cuban Ambassador Abolardo Moreno pushed through the crowd and gave the exiled president a bear hug and kiss. Zelaya responded with a broad smile.

"This was an excellent move," Moreno told a McClatchy reporter. "We totally support him, which is why we are co-sponsor of the resolution, but have no doubt there are important nuances between our support and that of the U.S."

Moreno was referring to the move by the White House to co-sponsor the General Assembly resolution, a decision D'Escoto announced shortly after he convened the body.

However, some U.S. lawmakers weren't pleased with the U.N. resolution, noting that Zelaya is an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and other leftist leaders in the region.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a written statement: "I had hoped that the U.N. and our democratic allies would have taken a more measured responsible approach. I had hoped that they would not merely echo or rubber stamp the unconfirmed claims made by those who are proven enemies of freedom in the Hemisphere."

Following his U.N. appearance, Zelaya traveled to Washington, where President Barack Obama denounced the Honduran coup but took a cautious approach in dealing with it.

Zelaya was expected to address the 34-member Organization of American States and meet with Assistant Secretary of State Tom Shannon.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration won't recall its ambassador in Honduras at this point and that Obama wasn't likely to meet Zelaya face-to-face during his Washington visit.

"No, I think the State Department is a pretty good extension of our reach on foreign policy," Gibbs said.

White House officials said they prefer to work closely with allies and groups such as the OAS in dealing with the Honduran coup.

"That's a very important meeting where they'll build on the consensus statement that was issued right after the coup," said Dennis McDonough, the White House deputy national security adviser, of the OAS meeting. "And coming out of that I think there's certain things we'd continue to ask for, including sending a mission to Honduras."

Asked about what actions the U.S. is considering on Honduras, McDonough said: "At the moment, I think we've made the decision that it's most effective to work in concert with our allies."

At the OAS, Zelaya was to ask the organization to "isolate" Honduras until he is restored to power, according to Carlos Sosa, Honduras' OAS ambassador.

"No commercial relations, no diplomatic relations, no cultural relations, no sports, no anything," Sosa said. "The rest, we can take care of the rest. We're Hondurans."

Sosa said Zelaya wants to finish his term and intends to travel to Honduras on Thursday despite warnings by forces loyal to newly installed interim Honduran President Roberto Micheletti that he would be arrested as soon as he set foot on Honduran soil.

Lacking international support but enjoying a strong following at home, the new Honduran leadership called thousands of people into the streets Tuesday in support of Micheletti.

Flanked by armed forces chief Romeo Vasquez, Micheletti insisted that he was simply defending democracy.

Soldiers fenced off the area around the presidential palace where unions and student groups have demonstrated, demanding Zelaya's return.

(Stogel is a Miami Herald special correspondent at the United Nations. Margaret Talev and Lesley Clark in Washington, and Miami Herald reporter Frances Robles in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, contributed to this article.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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