U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Tuesday again urged a political solution to the crisis in Haiti that does not involve the early departure of elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. He all but ruled out foreign intervention to put down the current unrest, but said foreign police could be sent in later.
The State Department has been a persistent critic of Mr. Aristide for among other things using gangs of his supporters to break up opposition protests.
But in a talk with reporters, Mr. Powell said criminal elements have become involved in the anti-government violence as well, and said the United States "cannot buy into a proposition" in which an elected president is forced out of office by thugs and others who do not respect the law.
"The opposition forces have taken on new dimensions," he said. "Some reflect the political opposition leaders. But we also have thugs you can't reasonably call the opposition, and also have some individuals coming back into the country who had formerly been excluded from civil life in Haiti for very good reasons. They're murderers and thugs. You can't expect anyone to deal with these kinds of individuals."
Mr. Powell said the United States is working with the Organization of American States and others to try to get a political dialogue going for a political solution to the crisis based on the peace plan of the Caribbean grouping CARICOM.
Under it, President Aristide would be allowed to serve out his term which ends in 2006. But he would govern along with a new prime minister and a broad-based advisory council that would prepare for new elections. The country has been at a political stalemate since disputed parliamentary elections in 2000.
Secretary Powell, who hosted a meeting on Haiti with Caribbean foreign ministers and others last Friday, said he was continuing consultations on the issue, including a telephone talk earlier Tuesday with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
While the United States sent troops to Haiti to 1994 to bring Mr. Aristide back to power after a military coup, he said there was no support for military intervention now, though outside police could go to Haiti later to back up a negotiated peace.
"The discussion we had last week with our CARICOM and OAS friends had to do with sending in police to sustain a political settlement," said Mr. Powell. "Not to go in and put down the current violence. There frankly is no enthusiasm now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing. What we want to do right now is find a political solution. And then there are willing nations that would come forward with a police presence to implement the political agreement that the sides come to."
Mr. Powell said the United States and other concerned parties are sending teams to Haiti to assess humanitarian problems resulting from the political unrest, including what officials here say are some localized food shortages.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there are no signs the turmoil is spurring an exodus of Haitians, but he said U.S. authorities were monitoring the situation closely and were prepared to intercept and return those trying to reach the United States.
He said the administration wanted to deal with any humanitarian needs as they arise in Haiti and "keep people safe and prevent them from facing tragedy on the high seas."