The world has declared war, says defiant Haiti

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The Independent Online
IN A defiant response to Sunday's invasion go-ahead from the UN, Haiti's military regime yesterday placed the country under a state of siege, and accused the Clinton administration of orchestrating what amounted to a global declaration of war against the impoverished, almost completely isolated nation.

In a brief televised address at 2.30 am yesterday, the provisional President, Emile Jonassaint, urged Haitians to put their differences aside and unite to face a common threat from outside. 'The whole world has declared war on us,' the 81-year-old former Supreme Court president told those parts of the country which still had electricity. He called on Haitians 'proudly and courageously' to do their patriotic duty.

In practice, the 'state of siege' will have little effect on the wretched conditions of life in Haiti, under ever-tightening economic embargo and whose remaining commercial air links with the outside world ended at the weekend. All money transfers between the two nations are forbidden, prices have skyrocketed, unemployment has soared and many businesses have closed.

Rather, it was a signal from Gen Raoul Cedras that the regime will not bow to intensifying international pressure for a return of the ousted former President, Jean- Bertrand Aristide. Radio stations said that under the declaration, all civil power is transferred to the military. Meetings can be dispersed, media outlets can be closed, searches can be carried out without warrants and a curfew can be imposed.

It was the second time in four years that Haiti has been under a state of siege. The last time was under military leader, Lt-Gen Prosper Avril in January 1990.

The international pressure, if only rhetorical, increased further here yesterday as the Clinton administration sought to extract maximum advantage from the 12-0 Security Council resolution permitting 'all neccessary means' to remove the junta from power - the same formulation used to approve the US-led campaign to drive Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. Washington's UN envoy, Madeleine Albright, said the Haitian military had a choice: they could 'either leave voluntarily soon or involuntarily soon'.

'Soon' however is an ambiguous concept. The impression here is still that an invasion is some weeks away.

The adminstration remains hopeful that Gen Cedras and his colleagues will give in without a fight. Despite the unanimous UN vote, many Caribbean and Latin American countries are opposed to an invasion.

On the Security Council itself, Brazil abstained.

Yesterday Argentina announced that it would send a contingent to participate in an invasion and subsequent UN occupation. But Jamaica, Mexico and Venezuela all oppose intervention, at least for now.

At home, public opinion is lukewarm at best. Congress is divided too. The Republican Senate leader, Bob Dole, argues that Haiti is not worth a single American life, and many Democrats feel much the same. The most vocal advocates of an invasion are the 40-strong Congressional Black caucus, and Florida politicians worried their state will be flooded with refugees in an election year.