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US Asks for Jamaica's Assurances that Aristide Visit is for Family Reasons, Not Political - 2004-03-12

The U.S. State Department says Jamaica should see to it that the planned visit to that country by exiled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is a family visit as stated, and not for politics. The issue figured in phone conversations Friday between Secretary of State Colin Powell and top Jamaican officials.

The State Department is not raising any public objection to the planned Jamaica visit by Mr. Aristide even though Bush administration officials have been angrily denying claims by the former Haitian leader that he was taken into exile by the United States against his will.

Mr. Aristide has been hosted by the Central African Republic since resigning and leaving the country on a U.S.-provided chartered plane on February 29.

In a statement Thursday, Jamaican Prime Minister Percival Patterson said his government was granting a request by Mr. Aristide to go Jamaica to visit his wife and two young daughters. He is expected to arrive in Jamaica early next week.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the impending trip Friday by telephone with Mr. Patterson and Jamaican Foreign Minister K.D. Knight.

Mr. Boucher said the United States has "no problem" with the visit provided it is limited to family reasons, and does not upset the transition process begun after Mr. Aristide's departure.

"This process is well-underway. We do think it's important for everyone to look forward, and to support this process. We have been informed by the government of Jamaica that the invitation to the former president, Aristide, is for a temporary visit for family reasons, and we hope that visit will be consistent with that goal, and with the goal of all of us of strengthening democracy in Haiti."

Mr. Boucher said he expected the Aristide visit to last a number of weeks and that it "will be o.k." as long as people "keep their vision in a forward direction."

Haiti's newly-installed Prime Minister Gerard Latortue was less enthused, saying that he had told the Jamaican Prime Minister that having Mr. Aristide so close to Haiti was an "unfriendly act," and that news of his planned return to the region had already caused an increase in tension in Port-au-Prince.

Foreign Minister Knight said it had been made very clear to Mr. Aristide that Jamaica is not to be used as a "launching pad" to further any desire to return to power.

Mr. Aristide has insisted from exile that he is still Haiti's lawful president and has called on followers in the country to peacefully resist what he has depicted as the U.S.-led occupation of the country.