Exiled Honduran leader promises border camp

/ Source: The Associated Press

Exiled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya sought to increase pressure on his country's interim government, promising to camp out across the border in Nicaragua with his supporters and urging Washington to slap tough sanctions on coup leaders.

Hundreds of Hondurans trickled across the border on foot through the mountains to avoid roadblocks and patrols that have paralyzed frontier crossings with Nicaragua. They awoke Sunday on makeshift mattresses of foam and cardboard at shelters in the nearby town of Ocotal.

"Here in Nicaragua we feel free. In Honduras we feel repressed" by the interim government, said Jose Bernabe, a 56-year-old coffee farmer from Villa Santa who said he hiked across the border with four brothers to join Zelaya's followers.

In Honduras, the Defense Ministry posted a statement on the armed forces' Web site saying that it supports "a solution to the problems our country is experiencing, through a process of negotiation within the framework of the San Jose accord," a reference to a proposal made by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias during talks that ended in a stalemate. A Zelaya aide declined to comment on the statement.

Demanding reinstatement
Zelaya is demanding his reinstatement after being toppled by a military coup and flown into exile in a June 28 coup that has been widely repudiated around the globe. The interim government of Roberto Micheletti has opposed Zelaya's reinstatement as president and says other compromises proposed by Arias are up to Honduras' courts, congress and the national prosecutor investigating charges against the deposed president.

On Saturday, Zelaya shuttled back and forth between the border crossing at Las Manos, where he hugged and clasped hands with supporters, and meetings with advisers in Ocotal.

Speaking through a megaphone, the 56-year-old deposed leader told his supporters that he would set up camp and demanded that his family in Honduras be allowed to meet him.

Zelaya said he had no plans to travel to Washington, contradicting a U.S. State Department spokesman who said Zelaya was coming.

"If someone wants to talk to me, let them come here to Ocotal," Zelaya said.

By Sunday, at least 350 Zelaya supporters had crossed into Nicaragua to join Zelaya, despite military checkpoints and an evening curfew on the Honduran side.

Zelaya said he probably would not try another border crossing like the brief, symbolic trip a few meters (yards) into Honduran territory he made on Friday. He said he feared soldiers would attack his supporters if he went any farther.

Clinton calls trip 'reckless'
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the trip "reckless" and said it would not help restore democratic and constitutional order.

Zelaya has continued to criticize the U.S. government for not doing enough to restore him to power, and Clinton for her comment.

"Her words should be to repress and admonish the coup government, not the heroic people in resistance," he said.

Washington has already suspended more than $18 million in military and development assistance. The European Union has frozen $92 million in development aid.

In Honduras, crowds of Zelaya supporters have clashed with security forces in the border city of El Paraiso.

The body of a young man who had been stabbed to death was found about 50 meters (50 yards) from where the protests took place. Zelaya supporters accused security forces of killing him, but police spokesman Daniel Molina denied the accusations.

The Honduran military thwarted Zelaya's first attempt to return home July 5 by blocking his airplane from landing at the airport in the capital, Tegucigalpa. The flight sparked clashes between Zelaya's supporters and security forces in which at least one protester was killed.