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US: Aristide Won't Be Driven from Office - 2004-02-18


The United States Wednesday continued intensive diplomatic contacts on Haiti's political crisis. Administration officials continue to reject military intervention to put down the violence, but also say the United States will not allow Haiti's elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to be driven from office by armed gangs.

Officials here are continuing to downplay talk of intervention in Haiti, saying U.S. efforts remain focused on applying as much political pressure as possible on Mr. Aristide to implement the peace plan of the Caribbean grouping, CARICOM.

The Haitian president himself has asked for outside help in dealing with the widening rebellion against his government.

But at a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said this would be only be appropriate when and if Mr. Aristide lives up to his commitments under the peace plan, and demonstrates that his government has the political will to support the rule of law.

Mr. Boucher said much of the violence in Haiti is being created by gangs once aligned with Mr. Aristide, and that it is "critical" now that those who supported these groups take the lead in renouncing violence and working for political dialogue.

"We're not asking anyone to negotiate with the thugs or the gangs that are on a rampage here," stressed Mr. Boucher. "But those who had been their sponsors in the past, those who had armed them, those who had fomented this violence need to take a clear stand against it. And the government, with the police, has the opportunity to take steps against these armed gangs, if the police are acting in a professional and responsive manner. So, there are steps the parties need to take, the government needs to take, and the first and foremost problem here is for the government to live up to its responsibilities."

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday "there is no enthusiasm" in Washington for sending in military forces to put down the violence.

But along with his Caribbean and Canadian colleagues, Mr. Powell has raised the possibility of committing outside police to Haiti to back up a political deal reached between Mr. Aristide and the opposition.

Secretary Powell spoke by phone with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Wednesday. Mr. de Villepin has said France has troops in its Caribbean territories that it could deploy as peacekeepers. But, the foreign minister says nothing is possible unless there is progress toward ending the violence and re-starting a Haitian political dialogue.

The United States sent troops to Haiti in 1994 to restore Mr. Aristide to power after his ouster by the military.

Though U.S. officials have been critical of his performance in office, a senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said the fact remains Mr. Aristide is the elected president of Haiti. He said the United States "is not contemplating any outcomes" in which he is "kicked out of office" by force.

Under the CARICOM plan endorsed by Washington, Mr. Aristide would be allowed to serve out his term which expires in 2006, but would share power with a new prime minister and a broad-based advisory council that would arrange for new national elections.

Haiti has been at a political stalemate since parliamentary elections in 2000 that Aristide opponents say were rigged to favor the president's party.

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