Haiti's junta gives in: 2.30am news: Carter wins deal to restore Aristide just in time to halt US attack

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The Independent Online
FACED WITH the threat of an American invasion within hours, the military junta that has ruled Haiti for three years agreed early today to give up power and allow the return of the elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The junta's surrender was a dramatic success for the former US president Jimmy Carter, who flew to Port-au-Prince on Saturday with a mission from President Bill Clinton to avert bloodshed. American troops were due to land peacefully this morning to oversee the transfer of power. Eventually they are expected to hand over to a UN peace-keeping force.

Mr Carter flew out of Port-au- Prince early today to report to President Clinton on more than 12 hours of negotiations which went on into the night.

In Washington an official said early today that dozens of aircraft ferrying troops from the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division had already taken off from Pope Air Force Base, near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and were recalled when the agreement came.

President Clinton was due to address the American people on television at about 2.30am today, and was expected to announce details of the deal.

As the 20 ships of the US invasion force, carrying 6,000 first- wave troops, waited in the Caribbean off Port-au-Prince last night, Mr Carter had insisted on extending his talks in the hope of a breakthrough.

He held more than 10 hours of talks yesterday with the Haitian army commander, General Raoul Cedras in the Haitian capital, before starting a new round of talks with General Cedras and the de facto president, Emile Jonassaint.

At first General Cedras had said he would not step down unless the exiled President Aristide, whom he overthrew in a coup in 1991, also resigned. But later in the day the White House said there were signs of progress after President Clinton had spoken with General Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was accompanying Mr Carter.

American CBS television reported that Mr Carter was under pressure from Washington to leave since about 3pm local time (8pm in Britain) but he insisted on staying to try to get an agreement allowing US forces to come ashore peacefully. The Carter delegation left the presidential palace for the airport at about 1am today.

The US insisted that unless General Cedras, his chief of staff, Philippe Biamby, and the Port-au- Prince police chief, Michel Francois, left voluntarily it would go ahead with the invasion.

The Haitian armed forces wanted a full amnesty for actions committed since the 1991 coup. That would be deeply unpopular among Fr Aristide's supporters, hundreds of whom have fallen victim to death squads in the past three years. Human rights organisations yesterday expressed concern that by focusing solely on getting rid of the top military leaders Mr Clinton may leave in place the core of the regime.

Mr Clinton began his day yesterday in church, bowing his head as a prayer was said for American troops, and the commander-in- chief who might have to send them into harm's way.

He returned to the White House and spent the rest of the day in the Oval Office with his senior foreign policy advisers, including the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, Defense Secretary William Perry, General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Vice President Al Gore.

In Haiti, Mr Jonassaint, who met the three US envoys in the presidential palace yesterday morning, was overheard telling Mr Carter: 'Thank you for putting your trust in me.' When the talks broke up Mr Carter and General Cedras drove together to the palace to see Mr Jonaissaint, raising speculation of a deal. These talks extended on into the night.

The final round of negotiations with General Cedras and General Biamby went on for more than four hours. Colonel Francois, who is reported to be ready to leave, is believed not to have attended.

By sending such a high-ranking team - polls show that Mr Carter and General Powell are two of the most respected men in the United States - Mr Clinton made it easier to sell his Haitian policy to Congress and the public. Their endorsement for either an agreement or an invasion would make it more difficult for Republicans and Democrat critics to attack him over Haiti.

(Photograph omitted)

Further reports, pages 12, 13

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