UN vote gives Washington authority to invade Haiti

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AS THE last commercial flight took off from Haiti before new international sanctions take effect, the United Nations Security Council yesterday cleared the path for a possible military invasion of the country.

The Security Council approved a resolution permitting the use of 'all necessary means' to return democracy to the small Caribbean state and oust the military regime headed by Lieutenant-General Raoul Cedras.

Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN, said the resolution gave Washington authority 'to take whatever actions are necessary to remove the de facto leaders' in the country. Urging Gen Cedras and his junta to take heed, she added: 'It is a very tough message and the message is: 'You can leave soon voluntarily, or you can leave soon involuntarily.' '

Mrs Albright stressed, however, that no decision to invade had been taken in Washington. 'This lays the diplomatic groundwork for whatever decision President Clinton wants to take and at this time he has not made any decision,' she said.

If military action is ordered by the President, a two-phase operation is envisaged. First, a multilateral force would land in the country, led by US Marines but also containing soldiers from other countries in the Caribbean region. Once conditions were considered secure in the country, the force would be gradually replaced by UN peace-keepers.

Already, the waters off Port-au- Prince, the capital, are crowded with US warships, ostensibly to protect the 3,000 American citizens still living in the country.

On Saturday, an Air France jet was the last airliner to take passengers from the country ahead of the UN ban on air contacts that comes into effect today.

The suspension of flights has left many hundreds stranded who had hoped to leave, including some Haitians who have been granted asylum by the US. Requests for permission by the US to land a charter plane in Port-au-Prince to pick up the refugees has been refused by the regime.

While the UN resolution should strengthen Bill Clinton's hand, enthusiasm for an invasion on Capitol Hill and among the American public remains weak. 'I think it would be a mistake,' said New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, a Republican, yesterday.

There is also ambivalence about any military action among some of Washington's Latin American neighbours. Mrs Albright dismissed as 'absolutely not true' fears in some of those governments that an invasion of Haiti might signal the start of a new era of US adventurism in the region.

Yesterday was the first time a US president has sought international approval for military intervention in the hemisphere. Past actions, from the 19th century to those of George Bush in Panama and Ronald Reagan in Grenada, were taken unilaterally.

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