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Former Haitian President Arrives in South  Africa - 2004-05-31

Former Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide has been officially welcomed to South Africa by President Thabo Mbeki for what is expected to be a lengthy exile. Mr. Aristide said he plans to return to Haiti, once the political situation there returns to normal.

Mr. Aristide was warmly welcomed at the Johannesburg airport by President Mbeki and a delegation of senior government ministers and other officials.

South African officials earlier stressed that Mr. Aristide is only visiting South Africa on a temporary basis. Some analysts say, even though he has not been granted asylum, his stay here will effectively be just that.

Mr. Aristide will be the guest of South Africa, and will live in a secure government residence. Several opposition parties say this is unacceptable and that Mr. Aristide should pay his own way. The Democratic Alliance says it plans to challenge the decision in parliament.

The government says it agreed to offer Mr. Aristide a temporary home only after consultations with the African Union, the Caribbean regional organization CARICOM, and with the United States and France.

International Relations Professor John Stremlau, at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, says, in hosting Mr. Aristide, South Africa is providing a needed service to the international community.

"It's not just the United States and France that are happy that Aristide is being relocated down here," he said. "The Caribbean community - CARICOM - the African Union and the United Nations all see advantage in pulling Aristide out of the Caribbean now, while Haiti goes through another difficult transition."

Professor Stremlau says there is always a moral hazard in hosting what he termed bad leaders. But he says, Mr. Aristide's human rights record should not be compared to those of Haiti's previous leaders, and that he has the potential to play a constructive role in Haiti in the future.

"I think, we're probably in a much better position now to make sure that Aristide is not a disruptive force in any way domestically, but actually might be a long-term resource for bridge building in the Caribbean, because only a few days ago, there was a pro-Aristide demonstration in Port au Prince," said Professor Stremlau.

Haiti holds a special significance for Mr. Mbeki and many South Africans, because it was the site of the first successful slave revolt. In addition, South Africa is working to build links with the African diaspora in places like Haiti.