Haiti amnesty poses problems for Washington

WHO WILL grant amnesty to Haiti's military leaders? The question is causing confusion here as Washington attempts to bring back President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and restore democracy.

Last weekend's rushed agreement between US envoy Jimmy Carter and Haiti's puppet President Emile Jonassaint, left vague to avoid rejection by the military rulers, promises an amnesty to the leaders of the 1991 coup that overthrew Father Aristide.

But who will pass the agreed amnesty law, and when? The timing is significant since the accord links amnesty to the stepping down of the coup leaders, General Raoul Cedras, General Philippe Biamby and Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Michel Francois. The three are supposed to quit their posts by 15 October, with Fr Aristide returning to Haiti as soon as possible thereafter.

Only the current parliament, minus Fr Aristide's exiled and underground supporters and padded out through post-coup elections not recognised by the international community, could pass an amnesty law before then. Mr Jonaissant, 81, has talked of convoking the existing parliament to pass the law. But Mr Jonassaint, despite the fact President Bill Clinton and Mr Carter considered him an acceptable signatory to last Sunday's accord in a last-ditch effort to prevent an invasion, is an illegitimate leader. 'Only the President can convoke parliament and the President is Jean-Bertrand Aristide,' said the US embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager.

The question is will the generals go before amnesty is granted? The US yesterday continued to pressurise the de facto military rulers. General Hugh Shelton met General Cedras for the first time, demanding that the Haitian come to him - at the US base at Port-au-Prince airport - rather than the other way round. Other US officers were meeting Colonel Francois later. Although the Carter accord does not demand it, the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, says Washington hopes the three coup leaders will not only step down but leave the country.

Meanwhile, anti-Aristide politicians and factions stepped up their attacks on the 'US occupation'. The former president, Leslie Manigat, referred to the day of the intervention - 19 September - as 'Black Monday' and said, 'Today, Haiti is a country without dignity, a people without honour.' The country was reported quiet, with the majority still apparently happy with or accepting the massive US presence.