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US Cool to Idea of Aristide Return to Haiti


The United States said Wednesday it would see no useful purpose in the return to Haiti of exiled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide said this week in South Africa he would like to return now that a former political protégé, Rene Preval, has been declared the country's next president.

The Bush administration had a difficult relationship with Aristide, accusing him of fomenting violence in the country before and after he was ousted in 2004.

Now it is making clear its lack of enthusiasm about indications the former president may be preparing to return from his South African exile.

Aristide, who has lived abroad since being driven from office two years ago, told reporters this week he hoped to return home as soon as possible to join Rene Preval, his onetime close associate who last week was declared winner of Haiti's February 7 presidential election.

The president-elect has added to the speculation by saying Wednesday that Aristide is entitled to return under Haiti's constitution, and the decision is his to make.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said an Aristide return would serve no useful purpose for Haitians, who he suggested are looking to a better future after the turbulence of the Aristide period. "I'm not aware that the government of Haiti is eager or urging Aristide to come back. Our understanding is that the government of Haiti is looking forward, not looking back. They've got a democracy to build, and the future is not the past. Aristide is from the past. We're looking to the future," he said.

Aristide has contended since 2004 that he was forcibly removed from office by the United States and France - a claim those countries deny - and that he was still Haiti's rightful leader.

However he has said in interviews this week that he recognizes Preval's election as legitimate and that he would work as an educator if he returned home.

A former Roman Catholic priest, Aristide became Haiti's first elected president in 1990 but was ousted by a military coup a year later. He was restored to office by U.S. forces in 1994.

He was elected a second time in 2001, after a term as president by Preval. U.S. officials say Aristide's latter years in office were marred by corruption and street violence he helped foment.

Aristide supporters are alleged to have been behind attacks on U.N. peacekeepers who have helped keep order in Haiti since the middle of 2004.

Preval, who once served as prime minister under Aristide, has said he wants to improve security in Haiti to attract investment and revive the impoverished Caribbean country's economy.

He is due to be sworn in as president in Port-Au-Prince March 29.