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US, Canada, CARICOM Oppose Forced Departure of Haiti's Aristide - 2004-02-13

Senior officials of the United States, Canada and Caribbean countries discussed the Haitian political crisis in Washington Friday. They called for a peaceful resolution of the crisis under terms of the plan put forth by the Caribbean grouping CARICOM. They also said there should be no attempt to illegally remove elected Haitian President Jean Bertrand-Aristide.

The participants said they were by no means uncritical of Mr. Aristide, who has been accused by U.S. and other officials of breaking up opposition protests with gangs of armed supporters.

But at a news conference ending a day of urgent political consultations in Washington, the CARICOM spokesman, Jamaican Foreign Minister K.D. Knight, made clear their opposition to any attempt to remove the Haitian leader by force.

"We endorse the full application of democracy in Haiti," he said. "We will not accept a coup d'etat in any form. Any change in Haiti must be through constitutional means. There should be no doubt about CARICOM's commitment to the democratic process and the constitutional authority in Haiti."

A joint statement issued after a State Department meeting hosted by Secretary Powell deplored the loss of life in recent political violence in Haiti and urged the Aristide government to respect the human rights of all the country's citizens.

At the same time, it called on the political opposition to act responsibly, to refrain from violence and to engage in the democratic process according to the CARICOM peace plan.

Among other things that plan calls for the disarmament of rival groups and the naming of a new prime minister and a broad-based advisory commission to help organize free and fair elections. Mr. Aristide would be allowed to serve out his current term, which ends in 2006.

Secretary of State Powell told reporters that while Mr. Aristide has nominally accepted the CARICOM plan, he needs to act now in a tangible way to assure that it is implemented.

"He has expressed support for the CARICOM proposals, and I hope he has been following these proceedings closely. What we need now is action," said Mr. Powell. "We need him to start taking action to reach out to the opposition, to make sure that thugs are not allowed to break up peaceful demonstrations. What we need from President Aristide now is action and not just expressions and words of support."

Mr. Powell said there was no plan, and nor was there any discussion of, military intervention to deal with the current Haitian unrest along the lines of the U.S.-led force that went there in 1994 to restore Mr. Aristide to power after a military takeover.

However, he said he and his colleagues discussed "beefing up" the Organization of American States mission now in Haiti, and providing financial and other kinds of aid to support a political resolution of the crisis.

The secretary said that could include the dispatch to Haiti of a "modest number" of police personnel from other countries in the region, who according to U.S. officials would help maintain order and increase the professionalism of the Haitian National Police.