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Honduras, Venezuela wrangle

Venezuelan Embassy charge d’affairs Ariel Vargas gets into his car outside the Venezuela Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Tuesday.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Venezuelan Embassy charge d’affairs Ariel Vargas gets into his car outside the Venezuela Embassy in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Tuesday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

Chavez’s diplomats scorn order to leave

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras – Honduras’ interim government ordered Venezuelan diplomats on Tuesday to leave the country as the international community threatened new sanctions on the Central American nation if negotiations fail to resolve the crisis.

Venezuelan Embassy charge d’affaires Ariel Vargas said he received a letter from the Honduran Foreign Ministry ordering his diplomats to leave in 72 hours.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been the most vociferous critic of what he calls the “guerrilla” government that overthrew his ally Manuel Zelaya on June 28.

The government of Roberto Micheletti, whom Congress swore in as president after the coup, accused Venezuela of meddling in its affairs and of threatening to use its armed forces against Honduras, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Associated Press.

Vargas dismissed the allegations and – holed up in the embassy along with a consular officer also affected by the order – vowed to defy it.

“We only have relations with the government of President Manuel Zelaya,” Vargas told reporters outside the building. He said the expulsion order “does not exist for us, because the Micheletti government does not exist. It is a usurper government, a coup government, a government that is not recognized by anyone on an international level.”

Micheletti apparently planned no immediate action to remove the Venezuelans.

“We are going to wait for them to obey the order this country has given them,” he said late Tuesday. He added that “we have information that many of their people are involved in the movements that have been happening in our country,” an apparent reference to pro-Zelaya protests.

Marta Lorena Alvarado, Micheletti’s assistant foreign affairs minister, said Honduras was withdrawing its embassy staff from Venezuela; both countries pulled their ambassadors soon after the coup.

From Managua, Nicaragua, Zelaya told the Venezuelan diplomats to stay put and said he plans to try again to return to Honduras sometime after today, the expiration date for a 72-hour period requested by Costa Rican President and mediator Oscar Arias to allow time for negotiations.

“We want to return to Honduras to look for solutions. It will be a peaceful return,” Zelaya told a news conference. He did not give details.

Zelaya also said he sent a letter to President Barack Obama naming army officials and lawmakers who allegedly planned his ouster, and asking for economic actions against “those who conspired directly to execute the coup.”

Chavez has demanded Washington do more to pressure Micheletti and force Zelaya’s return to power, including withdrawing U.S. troops from its Honduran base.

The European Union, meanwhile, warned Tuesday that if talks to end the crisis fail, it may impose further sanctions against Honduras. The EU announced on Monday that it had already frozen some aid.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the bloc is “considering different ways” to support mediation efforts by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias. He did not elaborate.

The 27-nation EU, like the United Nations and the Organization of American States, has condemned the coup and called for Zelaya’s immediate return to power.

No government has recognized the Micheletti administration.