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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most