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Aristide Heads To Jamaica - 2004-03-15

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is heading back to the Caribbean for the first time since fleeing to exile in Africa late last month.

A plane carrying Mr. Aristide left the Central African Republic on Monday bound for Jamaica, just 200 kilometers from Haiti's western shore. He is expected to arrive in Jamaica Monday afternoon.

Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has frozen his country's diplomatic relations with Jamaica and recalled Haiti's ambassador to Kingston. Earlier, Mr. Latortue had termed Jamaica's acceptance of the visit as an "unfriendly act" that will increase tensions.

The deposed Haitian president is accompanied by his wife and bodyguards. Also with him are Jamaican lawmaker Sharon Hay Webster and U.S. Congresswoman Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California.

The official reason for the visit is so Mr. Aristide can be reunited with his two daughters. Jamaican officials say Mr. Aristide plans to remain in their country for up to 10 weeks. They say they have told Mr. Aristide he cannot use Jamaica as a platform to seek reinstatement in Haiti.

Before leaving Africa, Mr. Aristide was asked if he wants to return to power. He replied, "I'm listening to my people."

Meanwhile, U.S. military spokesmen in Haiti say an American Marine has been shot and wounded during a peacekeeping patrol in the capital, Port-au-Prince. They say the Marine was hit late Sunday in the same district where Marines came under fire Friday and killed two men in a gunbattle.

This is believed to be the first casualty among U.S. peacekeepers who arrived in Haiti two weeks ago after Mr. Aristide's ouster.

The peacekeepers landed in Haiti just hours after Mr. Aristide resigned under pressure from domestic opponents as well as the United States and France. He fled Haiti on the same day, as rebels were closing in on Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Aristide has accused the United States of forcing him to resign, a charge the United States has strongly denied. American officials say arranging for Mr. Aristide's safe departure saved his life.

Some information for this report provided by AP, Reuters and AFP.