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Pressure builds up for US invasion of Haiti

WASHINGTON - A surge in refugees fleeing repression and economic misery in Haiti is forcing the Clinton administration to accelerate its consideration of a military invasion of that country, writes David Usborne. As many as 1,000 are leaving the country by boat every day and being intercepted by the US Coast Guard.

The renewed exodus has apparently been prompted by the US resuming screening of asylum-seekers at sea and at mid-stations in Guantanamo Bay and the Turks and Caicos Islands before sending them back to Haiti. Since then 5,000 Haitians have been picked up - more than in all of last year.

Though military action does not appear imminent, Washington sources have confirmed that renewed attention is being given to the option. President Clinton and his top foreign policy advisers held an emergency meeting to consider the renewed crisis on Friday.

'We're seized by the refugee surge and this has accelerated the discussion of other options,' a senior administration official was quoted as saying yesterday. 'We've not reached that fork in the road where a decision (for military action) would be required.'

The President has consistently said invasion of the country is an option. Opinion polls in the US last week suggested growing public support for such an intervention as the only way of removing the military regime led by Lieutenant- General Raoul Cedras.

The deepening of the crisis coincides with the first anniversary today of the signing of the UN-brokered Governor's Island Accord that was meant to see the reinstatement of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, overthrown in a military coup in September 1991. The agreement collapsed last October.

The sudden wave of refugees forced the US last week to reopen Guantanamo Bay, its military base on the tip of Cuba, to receive Haitians and become a centre for processing them. A tent city was rapidly erected on a concrete airstrip on the base. In the past few days 30 per cent of those interviewed have been given refugee status, officials said.

Guantanamo could receive up to 12,500 refugees but no more. Officials warned that at the current rate, the base could be overflowing before the end of this month. Washington is also stirred by reports of increasing political repression. Up to 30 people are thought to have drowned on Thursday after police opened fire on their vessel as they attempted to set sail.