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S. Africa May Consider Granting Asylum to Haiti's Aristide - 2004-03-01

The South African government says it will, if asked, consider granting asylum to Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who fled the country Sunday and is in the Central African Republic.

South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad told journalists in Pretoria that Mr. Aristide has not requested asylum in South Africa. But he said the Cabinet would consider any such request in consultation with other leaders involved in the Haitian crisis.

"In the end we would have to discuss with the regional grouping, that is Caricom [Caribbean Community], which is dealing with the matter and of course we will discuss with all the relevant role players - United States, France, and indeed with our colleagues on the African continent," he said.

Mr. Pahad says the South African government is concerned that an elected leader is being forced from office by what he described as rebels with a track record of gross human rights violations. He says such individuals cannot be allowed to dominate any initiative to solve Haiti's problems.

At a separate briefing, Pallo Jordan, a senior African National Congress member of parliament, said the rebels are backed by supporters of Papa Doc and Baby Doc Duvallier - the father and son who ruled Haiti for 29 years until 1986, and whose rule was marked by brutality.

Several opposition parties in South Africa reject granting asylum in this country to Mr. Aristide. Mr. Jordan says the government should weigh what is best for Haiti and for the Caribbean region.

"It might just so happen that what Haiti needs is that Aristide no longer be president and be somewhere in retirement," said Mr. Jordan. "And maybe that will actually help to get that country back onto its feet. You see foreign policy options, and even things like who you are going to give asylum too et cetera, is not like some ladies' bridge party."

Mr. Aristide has not said publicly that he intends to seek asylum in South Africa. Officials in the Central African Republic say he will stay there for several days, but they do not say what will happen after that.