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Foreign Envoys Press for Peace in Haiti - 2004-02-21


A U.S.-led team of diplomats is in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, to press the government and rebels to reach a deal ending violence that has killed at least 55 people.

The envoys are to meet with Haiti's President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and rebel leaders later Saturday, to present an internationally-backed peace plan.

The deal calls for appointment of a neutral prime minister and an interim governing council to advise president Aristide. The plan also provides for the disarmament of street gangs loyal to the president and those who oppose him.

The international team from the United States, Canada, France and the 15-nation Caribbean Community has set a Monday deadline to reach an agreement on the plan.

Meantime, Haiti's former police chief Guy Philippe repeated the call for Mr. Aristide to step down. He told France's Inter radio Saturday the country needs peace and dialogue to help end two weeks of violence.

Mr. Aristide has vowed to remain in the presidency until his term ends in 2006, saying he would rather die than resign.

Friday, pro-Aristide gangs attacked anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince, injuring at least 14 people.

Despite the current turmoil, annual carnival celebrations are getting under way in Haiti. Mr. Aristide has decreed this year's pre-Lenten holiday will last five days, in part to mark the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence.

The desperately poor Caribbean nation has been torn by political dissension since disputed legislative elections more than three years ago.