'We won't fire on our people': Honduras army chief

Posted at 07/27/09 9:10 PM

OCOTAL, Nicaragua - The head of the Honduran military has pledged not to use deadly force against supporters of toppled president Manuel Zelaya after the army gave its backing to mediation efforts.

"We will not fire on our people," the armed forces commander, General Romeo Vasquez, told Radio Globo, one of the few Honduras media outlets critical of the interim government headed by Robert Micheletti.

Vasquez was a key figure in the June 28 ouster of Zelaya and has defended the expulsion, but has said he was only enforcing a Supreme Court ruling.

Zelaya is now camped out on the Nicaraguan side of the border with Honduras from where he is plotting his return.

Michelleti meanwhile said he wanted a "peaceful solution" to the crisis as he urged Washington to ignore calls to impose sanctions.

"The armed forces are not the ones responsible for this internal division," Vasquez said on the radio show, during which he also talked with Zelaya's wife Xiomara Castro, who remains in Honduras and has been prevented from reaching the border.

Vasquez's comments were another sign that the military may be seeking to retreat from the turmoil created by Zelaya's sudden ouster.

A statement posted on the military's website expressed "unrestricted support" for Costa Rica-mediated talks between Zelaya and Micheletti representatives, and said the military hoped to see a resolution "in the framework of the San Jose Accord."

The accord, proposed by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, includes a call for Zelaya's restoration to power but with various limits. Micheletti and his government however have rejected the deal.

The New York Times reported that the Honduran military communique was drafted in Washington after talks between mid-level Honduran officers and US congressional aides, and was "significant" because it was the first sign of support for the San Jose Accord by a powerful sector of the interim government.

Meanwhile tension remained high on the border between Nicaragua and Honduras, with some 3,000 Honduran soldiers and police deployed in the area with orders to arrest Zelaya on charges of treason if he enters the country.

"We are organizing the resistance," Zelaya declared, saying he had set up camp some 100 meters (yards) from the border with his country, but inside Nicaragua near the Las Manos border crossing.

Zelaya set up his base in the Nicaraguan town of Ocotal, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Las Manos.

Zelaya, a former rancher who veered to the left after taking office, was ousted amid fears he sought to extend his rule.

Aides would not confirm whether he would again attempt to cross into Honduras. He briefly stepped across the border Friday, but returned to Nicaragua and has been there since.

Zelaya denied reports that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton invited him to Washington.

In Washington, the Honduran embassy announced that Zelaya had asked President Barack Obama to ban bank transactions and cancel the US visas of individuals "directly responsible for my abduction and the interruption of constitutional order in my country."

The list includes Micheletti, Attorney General Luis Alberto Rubi, public prosecutor Rosa America Miranda, and the top Honduran military brass.

"We believe that the measures that we are asking the US administration to take will exercise direct pressure on the perpetrators of the coup without causing any sort of negative impact on the people of Honduras," said Enrique Reina, Zelaya's new ambassador-designate in Washington.

But Micheletti on Monday issued a strong plea against such a move.

"Regardless of what happens, the worst thing the US can do is to impose economic sanctions that would primarily hurt the poorest people in Honduras," the interim leader wrote in an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal.

He urged Washington to continue what he described as "the wise policies of Mrs. Clinton.

"She is supporting President Arias’s efforts to mediate the issues," Micheletti explained. "The goal is a peaceful solution that is consistent with Honduran law in a civil society where even the president is not above the law."

Two Republican members of the US Congress -- Representatives Brian Bilbray of California and Connie Mack of Florida -- showed up in Tegucigalpa Saturday in a display of support for the Micheletti regime.