US: Honduras' election important but not last step

AP News
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Posted: Nov 30, 2009 2:57 PM

The United States on Monday called Honduras' weekend election an important step forward but said more needs to be done to achieve reconciliation after a coup earlier this year threw the country into turmoil.

Arturo Valenzuela, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said the election was fair and transparent but that Honduras must make further efforts to restore democracy after President Manuel Zelaya was expelled in June.

"While the election is a necessary step, it is not a sufficient one," Valenzuela said. "It's not the last step."

Many Western Hemisphere countries refuse to recognize Honduras' newly elected President Porfirio Lobo because of the coup, and Valenzuela was pressed by reporters on whether the United States recognizes Lobo's election.

"He will be the next president of Honduras," he said. "We recognize those results, and we commend Mr. Lobo for having won these elections."

Valenzuela said, however, that Honduras must do more than elect a new leader; it must also form a government of national unity and a truth commission meant to seek reconciliation.

The United States wants the unity government to be in place until Lobo takes office Jan. 27. Under a U.S.-brokered pact, Honduran lawmakers will vote Wednesday on whether Zelaya should be restored as head of that government.

Valenzuela urged Zelaya to participate in talks on national unity.

Honduras' army threw Zelaya out of the country after Zelaya pushed ahead with plans for a referendum on changing the constitution even though the Supreme Court ruled the vote illegal. The move was widely condemned by other nations.

The International Republican Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization, said its observers witnessed "an election free of violence and overt acts of intimidation." In a statement, the institute called the Sunday election "credible and peaceful." The delegation was led by David Kramer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, and included representatives from Mexico, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Spain and the United States.