Cartagena: Ousted Honduran leader Manuel Zelaya signed an accord with his successor on Sunday that will permit Zelaya`s return to his homeland and the country`s re-entry into the Organisation of American States.
Shaking hands with smiles, Zelaya and current President Porfirio Lobo sat down in this Caribbean port to sign an agreement that was worked out by Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia.
The goal is to end the political crisis caused by the June 2009 coup that sent Zelaya into exile and caused the OAS to suspend Honduras as a member.
The agreement "strengthens the American system ... and there is peace and freedom in a brotherly country like Honduras," Santos said.
Earlier, the Colombian leader said by Twitter that the agreement "implies the return of Zelaya to Honduras and its return to the OAS."
Chavez promised to make sure the accord`s terms are respected.
"We will be monitoring very closely that the agreement is fulfilled because we know there will be forces inside and outside Honduras who are going to try to boycott the accord," Chavez said from Caracas, Venezuela.
The deal calls for an end to the persecution of Zelaya and his supporters and his safe return to Honduras; reiterates that Honduras` Constitution guarantees the right to seek a national plebiscite on reforming fundamental laws; requires respect for human rights and the investigation of possible violations; and calls for a guarantee that Zelaya supporters can participate in Honduras` political life and in 2014 elections as a political party.
"I am pleased to come to sign a reconciliation agreement for the democracy of the Honduran people ... Do not be afraid of democracy," said Zelaya, who was ousted after he ignored a court order to cancel a national referendum asking if Honduras should change its Constitution. His foes accused him of wanting to get around a provision limiting presidents to a single term, a charge he denied.
Lobo called the signing "a very important day for Honduras”, saying the accord is "for the millions of Hondurasn who choose to live in peace and harmony”.
He also urged his countrymen to recognise that it will be good for the country for Zelaya to come home.
"Return to Honduras without any fear because you will be treated with the respect due a former president," Lobo told Zelaya.
Santos attended the signing of the "Cartagena Accord" and Chavez, who is recovering from a knee injury, was represented by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Micolas Maduro.
Zelaya attended even though a spokesman for Lobo had said the former leader would not be in Cartagena, but rather sign the agreement later in the day at a forum in Managua, Nicaragua, with Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Mauricio Funes of El Salvador and Alvaro Colom of Guatemala.
A Honduran government statement said that with the accord, Lobo has fulfilled the electoral mandate given him to "achieve national reconciliation and unity”.
Lobo was is scheduled to meet later with Ortega, Funes and Colom in Managua to discuss regional security issues and the re-entry of Honduras.
"Zelaya will be given the security and treatment of a former president because he deserves our respect and consideration," Lobo said at a news conference on Saturday.
Zelaya, who has been living in exile in the Dominican Republic, said last week that he plans to return to his Central American homeland May 28.
After Zelaya was overthrown by the military and hustled out of Honduras almost two years ago, international sanctions and months of negotiations led by the US and the OAS failed to persuade an interim government to restore him to power.
Honduras went ahead with November 2009 elections that had been scheduled before the coup and Lobo was voted to office. The US and other countries restored ties shortly after Lobo took power in January 2010.
But Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Nicaragua and Ecuador opposed restoring Honduras to the OAS unless Zelaya could return from exile without facing the threat of prison.
Honduras` courts recently dropped corruption charges and arrest warrants pending against Zelaya, paving the way for the country`s restoration as an OAS member.
OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza issued a statement saying the accord "opens the way to return Honduras to the hemispheric organisation”. He said it would be presented to the OAS`s permanent council on Monday.
Honduras` return to the OAS is expected to be made official during the organisation`s general assembly in El Salvador June 05-07.