CIA 'helped to set up terror group' in Haiti

THE CIA faces new embarrassment - and Washington possible new complications in its Haiti policy - after reports that the US intelligence agency helped set up FRAPH, the paramilitary group that has played a key role in persecuting and murdering supporters of President Jean- Bertrand Aristide.

According to an article in this week's issue of the liberal magazine Nation, FRAPH leader Emmanuel Constant was a former employee of the CIA. Largely at the CIA's wishes, the organisation was set up in 1993 to counter the pro-democracy movement backing Mr Aristide.

In Port-au-Prince yesterday, a US embassy spokesman refused to comment on the allegations, which had already surfaced in less direct guise in a Haitian newspaper. Prompted by Mr Constant's press conference on Tuesday, arranged by the Americans just hours after US troops had sacked FRAPH's headquarters, Le Nouvelliste asked whether the US government was working 'hand-in-hand' with a man who had been one of the most feared and powerful in the country.

The Nation quotes Mr Constant as saying that he was contacted by a US intelligence officer named Colonel Patrick Collins, who pressed him to set up a group to 'balance' pro-Aristide forces and to spy on 'extremists'. At the time, Mr Constant claimed he was working with CIA operatives in Haiti.

Despite the official silence here, and the lack of corroboration of the magazine's account, the charges can only reinforce criticism of the CIA's performance in Haiti, and compound wider doubts over the agency's future after the Aldrich Ames affair, the worst espionage scandal in CIA history.

Despite demands from the Aristide camp, Mr Constant was not arrested when his group was broken up. The CIA's hostility to Mr Aristide has been in the public domain ever since the leak of an internal report suggesting he was mentally ill. The doctor said to have provided the evidence supporting that claim was later shown not to exist.

Nor will the new accusations help quell Mr Aristide's lingering mistrust of US commitment to his cause. To try and allay these suspicions, visiting South African President Nelson Mandela was holding talks with Mr Aristide yesterday, at the urging of the administration.

President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, moved to still public anxiety that Haiti would turn into a quagmire. Boarding an aircraft carrier at the Norfolk, Virginia, naval base yesterday, Mr Clinton told crew members that the mission would soon be turned over to the United Nations: 'We're going to complete it and bring our people home.' Congress, too, is pressing for an early withdrawal.

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