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US Will Turn Back Any Haitian Refugees, Warns Bush - 2004-02-25

President Bush says the United States will turn back any Haitian refugees who try to reach the United States. Mr. Bush is calling for an international security force for Haiti, once leaders there reach a political settlement.

With rebels threatening to attack Haiti's capital, President Bush says he and Secretary of State Colin Powell are closely consulting with Canadian, French and Caribbean officials to try and find a peaceful solution to the violence.

"We still hope to be able to achieve a political settlement between the current government and the rebels," the president said.

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is calling for international troops to help stop the fighting. President Bush says he backs that idea, but only after there is a negotiated settlement to the three-week-old uprising.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says the Bush administration has no current plans to send troops to the country beyond the 50 Marines protecting the U.S. Embassy.

State Department officials say they are still trying to convince Haitian opposition leaders to accept a U.S. backed peace plan that keeps President Aristide in office with fewer powers. Mr. Aristide has accepted that offer. Rebel leader Guy Philippe says President Aristide must step down to avoid a bloodbath.

During a White House meeting with the new leader of Georgia, President Bush says U.S. security forces will not allow any Haitian refugees to reach U.S. soil.

"I have made it abundantly clear to the Coast Guard that we will turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore," he said. "And that message needs to be very clear, as well, to the Haitian people. We will have a robust presence with an effective strategy. And so, we strongly encourage the Haitian people to stay home, as we work to reach a peaceful solution to this problem."

Since they began their uprising earlier this month, armed militants have captured much of northern Haiti in fighting that has claimed at least 70 lives.