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24824: (news) Chamberlain: Violence could delay Haiti elections
Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, April 11 (Reuters) - Violence in Haiti that has
killed hundreds since September could delay a presidential election
scheduled for November, the country's electoral agency said on Monday.
Rosemond Pradel, secretary general of the council organizing elections
to replace ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, said preparations were
already behind schedule because of armed gangs, intimidation by former
soldiers and general lawlessness.
"If urgent steps are not taken to improve the security situation, it
will have serious and negative consequences on the election schedule,"
Pradel told Reuters.
Aristide, a former priest who championed Haiti's poor but faced
accusations in recent years of corruption and despotism, fled Haiti on Feb.
29, 2004, after a month-long revolt by gangs and former soldiers. He is now
in exile in South Africa.
An interim government led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and backed
by the United States and France was appointed to fill the vacuum, but the
impoverished Caribbean country has slid deeper into instability.
Pro- and anti-Aristide gangs fight frequent gunbattles, the police are
accused of human rights abuses, high-profile Aristide allies have been
jailed for months without charge and a 7,000-strong Brazilian-led U.N.
peacekeeping force has been unable to restore order.
At least 650 people have died since September, according to various
human rights organizations.
U.N. Security Council ambassadors are making a special trip to Haiti
this week to review the U.N. mission in Port-au-Prince.
Latortue, who was in Miami on Monday, told reporters: "It's just a
visit. They are visiting Haiti because they have a long good program in
Port-au-Prince. It is an information meeting and nothing else."
Latortue, who has frequently criticized the U.N. mission for not
cracking down on armed gangs, praised the peacekeepers "for doing a better
Haitian and U.N. police this weekend killed a former military
commander, Remissainthe Ravix, who helped oust Aristide but turned his guns
on the interim government as his demands for re-establishment of the
disbanded army went unmet.
They also killed an allied gang leader, Jean Anthony Rene.
Michel Brunache, chief of staff for interim President Alexandre
Boniface, said authorities had given themselves until the end of April to
create a secure climate for fair elections, and the weekend operation
marked the start of the campaign.
"We don't want any place in the country to be controlled by gang
leaders where candidates cannot campaign," Brunache said.
Legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for Nov. 13,
while local government elections are set for Oct. 9.
There are over 100 registered parties but questions remain over
whether Haiti's largest political force, Aristide's Lavalas Family party,
will campaign or even be allowed to.
Nothing short of a miracle would permit free and fair elections by
year's end, said a spokesman for the Group of 184, a coalition of
businessmen, church groups and civic leaders which played a prominent role
in driving Aristide from power.
Industrialist Charles Henry Baker said companies that bid for
contracts with the electoral council had all specified that the
registration of the country's 4 million voters would require a minimum of
"If the council cannot find enough time to register people, it will
have to postpone the election," Baker told Reuters.