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26340: (news) Chamberlain: Rice-Haiti (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By GEORGE GEDDA
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Sept 27 (AP) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
implored Haitian leaders on Tuesday to ensure that national elections set
for Nov. 20 put the country back on a democratic track after an extended
period of political turmoil.
Rice arrived here after an early morning flight from Washington and flew
by helicopter to the presidential palace for separate meetings with Haiti's
interim leadership, led by President Boniface Alexandre and Prime Minister
Rice wants assurances from Haitian leaders that they will go all out to
ensure free and fair presidential elections.
Repeated efforts to install stable constitutional rule in Haiti have
failed over the years but the United States, with a big assist from U.N.
peacekeepers, is eager to see the country turn a corner this time.
The Bush administration has provided well over $100 million in
assistance since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled the country
with U.S. help in February 2004 amid a revolt against his rule. Ten years
earlier, President Clinton had sent 20,000 U.S. troops to reinstate
Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president.
The State Department did not announce the trip until less than 24 hours
before Rice's early morning departure Tuesday, a sign of uneasiness about
the potential for violence during her visit.
When former Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled to Haiti 10 months
ago, gunfire erupted outside the presidential palace not long after he
arrived there for talks. It was not clear whether the violence was related
to his visit.
Politically motivated violence has erupted frequently in Haiti since
Aristide's departure. Haitian authorities hold Aristide's supporters
largely responsible. But police operations in pro-Aristide neighborhoods
have often turned deadly. Aristide is living in exile in South Africa.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday the administration
believes violence is easing.
"I think what we have seen is an environment that is increasingly
secure," he said. "That said, there are still pockets of real difficulty."
In addition to leaders of the interim government, Rice planned meetings
with representatives of a Brazil-led U.N. peacekeeping force. She conferred
on the Haitian issue Monday with Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim.
"She wants to go down there and see what progress they have made and
urge them to make continued progress as they come up on the elections,"
The 15-nation Caribbean Community suspended Haiti's membership shortly
after Aristide fled the island during last year's revolt. The Community
maintains that the post-Aristide government is unconstitutional.
Aristide's supporters contend that the United States forced him from
office. The administration says he left voluntarily.