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28757: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti-Former Premier (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


   PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 27 (AP) -- Former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon
Neptune was released from jail Thursday, more than two years after his
arrest on charges of orchestrating the killing of political opponents at
the start of a rebellion that engulfed the country.
   Haitian officials signed documents approving Neptune's release before he
was taken to a U.N. hospital for treatment and observation, said Jacques
Dyotte, prison reform director for the United Nations Development Program
in Haiti.
   A lawyer for Neptune said he was released for humanitarian reasons
because of failing health.
   A small crowd gathered at the prison to watch as two U.N. peacekeepers
carried Neptune, wearing gray shorts, sandals and a short-sleeved blue
shirt, into an ambulance.
   Dyotte said he could not comment on the status of the charges against
Neptune, who was prime minister from 2002-2004 under President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
   Neptune was accused of orchestrating the killings of at least 25
government opponents in the western town of St. Marc on Feb. 9-11, 2004,
some two weeks before Aristide was ousted following an armed rebellion.
   The former prime minister has denied the allegations and reportedly
refused meals for weeks to protest his detention.
   Mario Joseph, the attorney for Neptune, said he did not know the former
prime minister's precise medical condition, but said it is related to his
repeated hunger strikes. "He is very weak," Joseph said.
   The U.N. mission in Haiti welcomed Neptune's release, saying he'll
remain under the care of U.N. medical staff until he is well enough to
return to his family.
   Joseph said he was confident the case against Neptune would soon be
   "After the hospital, he is free to go home," Joseph said. "I'm confident
that charges will be dropped."
   A U.S.-backed interim government, which was replaced May 14 by President
Rene Preval, had faced international pressure to release Neptune, whose
prolonged detention fueled allegations of political persecution.
   Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cited Neptune's case
as an example of the need to improve Haiti's justice system, which is
burdened by corrupt judges and police and overcrowded prisons.
   After his arrest in June 2004, Neptune became a rallying point for
militants demanding the release of hundreds of Aristide officials and
loyalists jailed without having the legality of their detention confirmed.