Clinton edges towards sending in the Marines: As tension rises over Haiti, Americans are divided about invasion, writes Rupert Cornwell in Washington

THE HAITIAN confrontation moved towards the brink yesterday as the army-controlled government in Port-au-Prince warned it would punish anyone who supported an invasion, while President Bill Clinton came closer than ever to endorsing US military intervention to restore democracy to the country.

Speaking at the end of a week-long European trip, Mr Clinton called Monday's expulsion of 89 human-rights monitors a desperate act by an illegal regime. 'We have got to bring an end to this,' he told a press conference in Berlin, insisting that the defiance of the Haiti's rulers 'validated' his decision to keep the military option open.

From UN headquarters in New York came a similar message, as at the urging of the US the Security Council issued a statement condemning Haiti's behaviour and reiterating its determination to secure a 'rapid and definitive solution' to the crisis. Earlier, Washington's UN envoy, Madeleine Albright, explained that such language referred to the need to make existing sanctions watertight. Even so, the wording fell little short of a tacit blessing for the use of force to topple General Raoul Cedras and his colleagues.

Yesterday the UN reluctantly agreed to comply with the order to remove its mission, within the next day or two. In Haiti itself, the 89 observers representing the UN and the Organisation of American States were preparing to leave, either by charter flight or on an Air France plane to Guadaloupe - one of only three remaining scheduled weekly flights to Haiti after the virtual ban on air traffic imposed from 24 June.

Before departing, the UN team was destroying documents to protect Haitian civilians who had reported human-rights violations since it began work on February 1993. Voicing widespread fears that the expulsions could hasten a fresh round of repression, William Gray, President Clinton's special adviser on Haiti, warned the authorities not to harm any of the UN observers. Such behaviour, he said, would be a 'miscalculation and a tragic mistake'.

But Port-au-Prince seems deterred neither by the international condemnation being heaped upon it, nor the 14 US warships now stationed around Haiti, carrying 2,000 Marines ready to intervene should Pentagon plans for an invasion be given the go-ahead. Almost daring the administration to act, Haitian radio read out a government message yesterday declaring that 'all who call for invasion' would be liable for punishment under the law.

Despite the rising tension, US officials continue to claim that a military intervention is not imminent. One problem is the misgivings of some Caribbean and Latin American countries, and Washington's desire to present any such move as an international, UN-authorised response. Another difficulty, no less tricky for the White House, is strong congressional opposition to any US entanglement.

The spectre is a repeat of Somalia, where after initial success the US-led multinational force was trapped in factional warfare. Indiana Republican Richard Lugar, a widely respected member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the expulsions were 'outrageous', but that an invasion would be a serious error.

'We've got to get over the idea that invading Haiti is going to make democracy easier or life for the people easier,' said Mr Lugar, expressing sentiments stretching well beyond his own party. 'It certainly will make it more difficult for the United States because we will be the government and we will then be the oppressors.'

Public opinion, too, is broadly opposed to invasion. But the President faces scarcely less powerful pressures to act. The overwhelmingly Democratic black caucus in Congress accuses him of racial discrimination in refusing to take in Haitians fleeing their country. The flood of boat people, though abating somewhat in the last 48 hours, threatens none the less swiftly to overwhelm ad hoc plans - embarrassingly rejected by Panama - for other countries to accept the refugees temporarily.

Various pretexts for a US landing exist, from the risk of further human-rights abuses by the Haitian military and police, to the need to protect Americans living in Haiti, the ostensible justification for this month's dispatch of the Marines.

Washington's ever-shifting responses to the crisis have only reinforced Mr Clinton's reputation for foreign policy inconstancy.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine