WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- The Obama administration has revoked diplomatic visas for four Honduran officials in the first major step towards encouraging the leaders of the June 28 coup to accept exiled President Manuel Zelaya back into the country.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly confirmed the measure, indicating the review would continue and could involve members of the families of the privileged visa holders as well.
Diplomats said the Hondurans stripped of their diplomatic visas included a judge who ordered Zelaya's arrest and the head of the Honduran Congress. Members of the de facto regime led by President Roberto Micheletti could likely be next in line, said the sources.
Kelly said the visas were revoked by the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
"We don't recognize Roberto Micheletti as the President of Honduras. We recognize Manuel Zelaya. And so in keeping with that policy of non-recognition, we have decided to revoke official diplomatic visas or A visas of four individuals who are members of that regime, the regime of Micheletti," Kelly said.
The administration has been urging Micheletti to accept mediation but so far has received no positive response.
Honduran interim government sources quoted by the media reacted to the visa revocation with defiant pronouncements, saying the measure would have no major impact on the ruling group or their supporters.
The European Union and other international organizations have also condemned the coup and asked for Zelaya to be restored to the presidency.
The exiled president has campaigned for his safe return in rallies along the Honduran border with Nicaragua, attended by hundreds of his supporters. Many Hondurans hitch-hiked into Nicaragua to join the protests against the coup and in support of Zelaya's reinstatement. Last week Honduras faced partial shutdown because of a general strike backed by several trade unions.
Zelaya failed in an attempt after the June coup to land in Honduras, and protests at that time caused at least one fatality among his supporters.
Tensions over the strikes and pro-Zelaya protests were amplified as Honduras and Venezuela escalated a diplomatic row over President Hugo Chavez's condemnation of the coup. Honduras accused Venezuela of meddling and expelled its diplomats. Venezuela denied it had provided the plane that took Zelaya on his first unsuccessful bid to land in Honduras.