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28060: Hermantin(News)Diplomats: Aristide return may mean chaos (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Posted on Sat, Mar. 04, 2006

Diplomats: Aristide return may mean chaos
Western diplomats hope to convince South African President Thabo Mbeki that ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in exile in South Africa, would cause chaos if he returned to Haiti.

The critical issue of whether Haitian President-elect René Préval will allow the return from exile of his political mentor -- ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide -- will be taken up next week at meetings with Aristide's South African hosts, Haitian and foreign officials say.

Préval has made it increasingly clear to foreign diplomats that he does not want the fiery former priest to return home any time soon. But he must walk a delicate line to appease Aristide's supporters in Port-au-Prince's slums, who during the election put up street barricades and threatened violence until Préval was declared the victor.

Foreign diplomats from six key countries long involved in Haitian affairs -- the so-called Core Group consisting of the United States, Canada, France, Brazil, Chile and Argentina -- agree that Aristide's arrival would destabilize a country that has been on the brink of anarchy for two years.

They plan to take the opportunity of Chilean President-elect Michelle Bachelet's inauguration in Santiago next week to discuss the subject with South African President Thabo Mbeki, according to Haitian and foreign officials.

''Brazil has been approached to be the point-person, to tell President Mbeki that Aristide's return is not welcome,'' said a Haitian political analyst privy to the discussions within the Core Group.

Brazil, a close ally of South Africa, heads the U.N. peacekeeping mission that was deployed in Haiti to restore order after Aristide fled the country as an armed insurgency swept toward the capital in 2004. Préval is expected to visit Brazil before the ceremony in Chile, and fly to Santiago with Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Lula, unlike the Bush administration, is not seen as hostile toward Aristide, but agrees that his return would result in political paralysis and instability that could endanger the nation's troops, according to the political analyst and two senior western diplomats, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

''At this point it would be a very polarizing and divisive event that could fatally damage the effort to move Haiti forward,'' said Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group.

Préval has been coy on the subject in public, only suggesting that Aristide might face corruption or other charges if he returns. Although Préval was initially an ally of Aristide, they grew distant during Préval's 1996-2001 term as president.

When Préval was last week asked about the question of a possible Aristide return by CNN en Espańol he responded: ``The Haitian Constitution says that whatever Haitian can return to his country, he does not need a visa, so he must decide whether he wants to return, if there are legal and other actions.''

The Bush administration has been sending this signal to Aristide, as well. An investigation by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has landed Aristide's former chief of palace security, three senior Haitian police officials and an ally in the Haitian Senate in federal prison in Miami. The Miami Herald has reported that a grand jury in Miami is looking into Aristide's own affairs.

Washington views Préval as more cooperative than Aristide in its fight against drug trafficking. Indeed, the Bush administration has been supportive of Préval since his victory was declared on Feb. 16.

The announcement came after allegations of fraud and increasingly agitated street demonstrations had driven the vote tabulation to a halt and raised fears the electoral process might collapse. Under pressure from Brazil and Chile, the electoral council decided to distribute blank ballots in such a manner as to give Préval just over the 50 percent of votes he needed to avoid a runoff.

U.S. diplomats, initially wary of such a move, soon acquiesced, followed by France and then Canada, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Bush called Préval on Feb. 22, and Thomas Shannon, assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, visited him five days later in Port-au-Prince.

In those discussions, Préval indicated he would cooperate fully with the DEA to fight drug trafficking through Haiti, and retain as his chief of national police Mario Andresol, whom the DEA views as strong and uncorrupted, according to the Haitian political analyst and U.S. officials.

Préval also discussed his hope that the U.S. Congress would enact legislation to give trade preferences to Haiti to revive its flat-lining economy, the analyst added.

The administration recently pledged support to such preferences. On Feb. 15, Bush's trade representative, Rob Portman, told the House Ways and Means Committee that he ''would try to see what we can do to move forward with some kind of a preferences program'' for Haiti.

But the hope that Préval's administration will get off to a fast start is already being tempered by the reality that his inauguration, scheduled for March 29, will likely be postponed.

Electoral officials are yet to announce the names of the candidates for the 129 parliamentary seats who fell short of a majority and will have to go into a runoff against the second-place finishers.