Three months after he was expelled in a dawn coup, the deposed president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, sneaked back into his country on Monday, forcing world leaders gathered in New York to refocus their attention on the political stalemate to the south and presenting a new challenge to the de facto government.
After what he described as a 15-hour trek through the mountains, taking back roads to avoid checkpoints, Zelaya and his wife took refuge at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. There he gave a series of interviews with the international news media, saying that he hoped to begin meeting with “prominent Hondurans” and members of the de facto government that ousted him to find an end to the crisis that has engulfed the country since he was exiled on June 28.
His return appeared to have caught the de facto government by surprise. Roberto Micheletti, who was appointed president by Congress, initially denied that Zelaya had returned, calling the reports “media terrorism.”
But on Monday evening, after imposing a nationwide curfew, he acknowledged Zelaya’s presence but said it “changes nothing of our reality.” He called on the Brazilian government to hand Zelaya over for arrest and trial.
The de facto government has said that Zelaya would be arrested if he tried to return, citing 18 charges against him, including treason.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday evening that the two sides must find a way to talk. “It’s imperative that dialogue begin,” she said.
President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica, who has led the international negotiations on Honduras, offered to go to Honduras to mediate if he were asked.
Zelaya has accepted a proposal offered by Arias that would restore him to the presidency with limited powers and grant an amnesty on all sides. Micheletti has rejected it.
No country has recognized the de facto government of Micheletti. The United States, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have all suspended aid to Honduras in protest.
But the Micheletti government has stood fast, insisting that Zelaya was removed from office legally. Micheletti has promised to hand over power to a new president who will be elected in national elections scheduled for Nov. 29.