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OAS Calls for Haitian Political Dialogue, End to Violence - 2004-02-20


With the armed uprising against the government of Haiti entering its third week, diplomatic efforts are continuing to secure an end to the violence. Late Thursday, in Washington, the Organization of American States (OAS) called on President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to respect human rights and hold a political dialogue with his country's political opposition.

In a special session, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States unanimously endorsed a resolution that calls for the disarmament of rival gangs that have been involved in the recent violence.

The 34 member states also expressed support for the efforts of the CARICOM group of Caribbean states, which calls for confidence-building measures and a new political dialogue between Haiti's democratically elected government and its opposition.

Armed gangs once aligned with President Aristide began an uprising against his government on February 5. They now control several cities and towns in north and central Haiti, including Gonaives, the country's fourth-largest city. At least 55 people have died in the violence.

At the OAS Council meeting, Haitian Ambassador Raymond Valcin presented the problem in terms of law enforcement. He said President Aristide, whose country has no armed forces, is facing an insurrection by "armed thugs and bandits," and needs international help to restore public order.

"We have armed groups controlling portions of the territory and threatening to overthrow political leaders by violence," he said. "It is in this situation that the Haitian government, once again, has come to the OAS for its support and protection - and assistance in protecting public order."

But U.S. Ambassador John Maisto had a decidedly different view of the matter. He cited a string of alleged anti-democratic practices by Mr. Aristide's government in recent years, saying, among other things, that the Haitian government must stop the flow of weapons to armed gangs.

"In sum, Mr. chairman, the situation in Haiti is due in large part [to] the failure of the government of Haiti to act in a timely manner to address problems that it knew were brewing," he said. "The assumption of power through a democratic process does not give a government, any government, license to behave in an undemocratic and in an irresponsible fashion."

Mr. Maisto's comments echoed those of the U.S. State Department, which has said that Mr. Aristide once armed and sponsored the very gangs that have now turned against him.

But most OAS envoys did not speak about Mr. Aristide in such harsh terms.

Speaking for the CARICOM group, Ambassador Patrick Lewis of Antigua and Barbuda said the government and the opposition must work together to overcome their differences, suggesting that both sides bore responsibility for Haiti's current crisis.