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Haiti Opposition Leaders Back Away from Outright Rejection of Peace Accord - 2004-02-26

Opposition leaders in Haiti say they are still committed to an international peace accord to end Haiti's political crisis. But they say they want the international community to try and convince Haiti's president to step down. About 70 people have died over the past month as violence has gripped Haiti.

Haiti's political opposition leaders on Wednesday backed away from an outright rejection of a power-sharing agreement designed to end the country's political crisis.

Under the accord, a three-party commission would appoint a new prime minister and national unity government but President Jean Bertrand Aristide would be allowed to serve out the remaining two years of his term. Opposition leaders in Port-au-Prince, who had reportedly rejected the agreement, say they accept most of its provisions, but they want the international community to convince Mr. Aristide to leave office at some point in the near future.

Diplomats from the United States, France and the Organization of American States say the terms of the accord are not negotiable, so it remains unclear what impact the latest opposition position will have on resolving the crisis.

Andre Apaid, one of the leaders of the Democratic Platform which has been calling on Mr. Aristide to step down, says if he does, the rebellion now under way in the northern part of the country will end.

"The minute you remove the winds in their sails, by knowing Mr. Aristide goes there is no reason for them to proceed. The combustion to their engine is that. They have said that the minute Mr. Aristide steps down they will deposit their guns - they stated it," he said.

Mr. Apaid and other leaders of Haiti's political opposition deny any connection to the rebels who now control much of northern Haiti.

Opposition leaders have been calling on Mr. Aristide to step down for months saying he has jailed opponents, mismanaged the economy and benefited from corruption, charges Mr. Aristide has long denied.

The security situation in Haiti is rapidly deteriorating. Armed government supporters have shut down the capital with barricades and roads in much of the country are considered too dangerous to travel on. Rebels under the command of former regional police commander Guy Philippe already control Haiti's second largest city, Cap-Haitien. On Wednesday, Mr. Philippe told the Associated Press he intends to wait and see if Mr. Aristide resigns, before making a decision about attacking capital.