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Former Haitian President Aristide Asks for Extended Visit to South Africa - 2004-05-10


The South African department of foreign affairs says former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide has made a formal request to "visit South Africa until his personal situation normalizes." The cabinet will consider the request later this week and is expected to approve.

Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma issued a statement in Cape Town, announcing Mr. Aristide's request for an extended visit to South Africa. The former Haitian leader has been expected to make his way here ever since he fled Haiti in late February, following an armed revolt.

But the foreign affairs department is emphasizing that the cabinet still has to decide whether to grant the request. Foreign Affairs spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa denied that the open-ended visit actually amounts to asylum. "No, there is no reference whatsoever, in the communiqué of the minister of foreign affairs, Dr. Dlamini-Zuma, for asylum. We have spoken about a request for a visit until his personal situation normalizes," he said.

The foreign affairs department says the request came from the Carribean regional organization CARICOM, and was forwarded to South Africa through the African Union.

The issue was first raised shortly after Mr. Aristide left Haiti, when he initially took refuge in the Central African Republic. The South African government said it was willing to have him, but never received a formal request until now.

At the time, senior officials indicated they did not want him to arrive until after South Africa's general elections, which took place nearly a month ago.

Several opposition parties have vocally opposed the idea of granting Mr. Aristide asylum in South Africa. But the ruling African National Congress has supported the idea in principle.

The foreign affairs spokesman says the cabinet will take into account the views of CARICOM and the African Union, as well as South Africa's own domestic situation, in deciding whether to allow Mr. Aristide to visit. He said he cannot say when the trip might take place until cabinet has made its decision.

Mr. Aristide is in Jamaica.

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