Aristide to meet coup leaders: Deposed Haitian president to discuss return of democracy

THE HAITIAN leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is to meet for the first time the military officers who overthrew him in a coup in 1991 to discuss the return of democracy to Haiti. The meeting will take place at the United Nations on Sunday and Raoul Cedras, the military officer who took over, is to come to New York for three days of talks.

Although General Cedras has said in the past that he is prepared to let Father Aristide return, opponents of the military say the President should only return if he has full authority. Diplomats have also expressed doubts about the willingness of the coup leaders to step aside.

More than 3,000 people have died since Fr Aristide was overthrown in a coup in September 1991. He had been elected with more than two-thirds of the vote seven months earlier. He and his supporters in exile in the US have said that officers responsible for the coup and subsequent killings must be purged from the army and a date set for the resignation of Gen Cedras and other senior officers.

The UN envoy to Haiti, Dante Caputo, says however that Fr Aristide has attached no preconditions to the talks in New York. The pressure on the Haitian military has also been increased by the imposition of an oil and arms embargo on Haiti by the UN last Wednesday. Although there is no mechanism to enforce this it will limit oil imports from Europe.

President Bill Clinton, reacting to criticism that he has done little to honour campaign promises to restore Fr Aristide, has barred 100 senior Haitian officials from entering the US and has frozen the assets of the Haitian central bank and other financial institutions and individuals. This action may have come too late since the regime is believed to have shifted many of its US assets.

The White House has been embarrassed by its continuing failure to achieve anything in Haiti, and accusations that the reversal of its declared policy of allowing Haitian refugees a hearing before repatriating them has encouraged the military regime to tighten its grip on power. In January Mr Clinton, fearing that 100,000 Haitians would flee to to Florida by sea, agreed to continue President George Bush's policy of turning ships around. The Supreme Court last week upheld the legality of the Bush and Clinton policy of intercepting the Haitian refugees and returning them without asylum hearings.

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