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Clinton's Haiti glory marred by killing


in Port-au-Prince

It was almost like the Fourth of July, a gigantic media bash to celebrate what US President Bill Clinton considers one of his greatest foreign policy successes. They had hosed down Port-au-Prince's grubby airport with a brand new American fire engine, tarmacked the roads Mr Clinton would drive on and whitewashed the neo-classical palace of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

One large stain could not be washed away, as it emerged that a team of US FBI agents suspected one of Mr Aristide's key government ministers of involvement in this week's murder of an opposition politician.

CNN, the US network, said it had seen documents pointing to involvement by Mondesir Beaubrun, the Interior Minister who is a retired general, in Tuesday's street assassination of the 35-year-old lawyer and politician Mireille Durocher.

Mr Beaubrun was not available for comment.

Mr Clinton confirmed that a large team of FBI men was in Haiti at Mr Aristide's request to investigate the murder. In later statements, both US and Haitian officials indicated Mr Beaubrun was under investigation and sought to distance Mr Aristide from the man he appointed Interior Minister last year.

Mr Beaubrun, in his mid- forties, was armed forces chief of staff last 26 December during a renowned incident in the army headquarters opposite the presidential palace. When an angry crowd of army officers gathered to demand back pay, he reportedly locked himself in his office and ordered his bodyguards to block his door.

As the demonstration got noisier and closer, there was an outburst of shooting. Witnesses said at least two of his bodyguards were shot in the back, apparently when a panicky General Beaubrun fired through his door with an Uzi sub-machine-gun.

Mr Clinton came here to pull out the last of the 20,000 US troops who took part in last September's peaceful occupation to oust the military rulers who had overthrown Mr Aristide three years earlier. At a ceremony on the front lawn of the palace, he handed over security responsibility for Haiti to the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali. US troops will form almost half the 6,000-strong UN force, which will be commanded by an American general.

After stopping off at a US military base to thank his troops - calling them "warriors for democracy" - Mr Clinton arrived by helicopter on the palace lawn to be greeted by thousands of cheering children kitted out in "Uphold Democracy" T-shirts.

Outside the palace gates, thousands more Haitians danced wildly to a rock band. Ironically, signs posted all around the palace and downtown Port-au-Prince, thanking Mr Clinton for the military intervention, were signed "courtesy of the Interior Ministry".

"Today we celebrate the restoration of democracy to your country. Never again must it be stolen away," Mr Clinton said as Mr Aristide listened from a throne-like antique chair on the palace steps.

But he warned: "Democracy does not flow naturally like a river. You must have patience. Say no to vengeance and yes to reconciliation."

That was a clear reference to fears that civil unrest could explode once the US forces are gone. Security in some areas is in the hands of troops from as far away as Pakistan and Jordan.

"Justice will not always be swift, it may not always seem fair. But citizens must not take the law into their own hands," the US President said.

Mr Clinton may have been hinting at the murder of Ms Durocher, who had been close to the military rulers who ousted Mr Aristide and had just set up a political party to oppose the President's popular Avalanche movement.

Mr Aristide thanked Mr Clinton for "taking Haiti from a tunnel of despair... from death to life. If democracy were a river, the principle of one man, one vote would be its bridge."Mr Aristide quoted from Shakespeare in saying the bread of exile was bitter and told Mr Clinton: "Posterity will render you the honour you are due."

After the speeches, red and blue balloons were released, followed by doves which fluttered over the palace lawn. Schoolchildren who tried to grab the birds were reprimanded by US Secret Service men.