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Aristide Heads Back to Caribbean - 2004-03-15

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is heading back to the Caribbean region for the first time since fleeing into exile in Africa two weeks ago.

Mr. Aristide flew out of the Central African Republic Monday bound for Jamaica, where he is expected to arrive later in the day. He is accompanied by his wife, bodyguards, as well as Jamaican and U.S. officials.

Among them are Jamaican Foreign Minister Sharon Hay Webster and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California.

Jamaican officials have said the former Haitian leader plans to remain in their country for up to 10 weeks. He will be reunited with his two children, who had been sent to New York for their safety, during an armed rebellion against Mr. Aristide's government.

Mr. Aristide resigned February 29 under pressure from domestic opponents, as well as the United States and France.

The same day he fled Haiti, as rebels were closing in on the capital, Port-au-Prince. He has accused the United States of forcing him to resign, a charge U.S. officials have strongly denied, saying they saved his life by arranging for his safe departure.

Mr. Aristide's pending return to the Caribbean has prompted Haiti's new Prime Minister Gerard Latortue to declare Jamaica's decision to receive him "an unfriendly act" that has stoked tensions in Haiti.

U.S., French and Canadian troops have been patrolling Port-au-Prince and other Haitian towns in an effort to restore order. Mr. Aristide's supporters have staged sporadic protests, demanding his return to power.

Mr. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was considered the champion of Haiti's poor, when he helped overthrow the Duvalier family dictatorship in 1986. But he himself has been accused of autocratic rule and tolerating corruption.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.