Undergound mayor seen as Haiti's next leader

UNITED STATES military chiefs and diplomats yesterday briefed Haitian politicians, businessmen and labour leaders on the progress of the 'Operation Restore Democracy', including plans to ensure the security of supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

General Hugh Shelton, commander of the Haitian operation, and ambassador William Swing held yesterday's briefings as the country's de facto military ruler General Raoul Cedras insisted he would not leave the country when Fr Aristide returns on 15 October.

General Cedras noted that an agreement signed by the US envoy Jimmy Carter and Haiti's military- appointed 'President' Emile Jonassaint did not require the general to leave. It does not even specify that he should step down although Washington insists his resignation is central to the deal.

'Certain military officers of the Haitian Armed Forces are willing to consent to an early and honourable retirement . . . when a general amnesty will be voted into law by the Haitian parliament, or 15 October, whichever is earlier,' last Sunday's rushed agreement said.

President Bill Clinton and his special envoys - Mr Carter, General Colin Powell, and Senator Sam Nunn - have said that according to the agreement, the three leaders of the 1991 coup that overthrew Fr Aristide must step down. These were General Cedras, Brigadier General Philippe Biamby and the police chief, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Michel Francois.

US military officers were said to be meeting the rarely seen police chief, who initiated the coup, and a US embassy spokesman, Stanley Schrager, said that Washington was still trying to persuade the three men to leave the country.

Mr Schrager said that after a successful military deployment, the US was now attempting to revive Haiti's democratic institutions and in particular to get the pre-coup parliament back in business, with its priority to pass the amnesty bill.

It may be significant that US officials have increasingly been mentioning the name of Evans Paul, 38, the now-underground Mayor of Port-au-Prince and a leader of the National Front for Change and Democracy for which Fr Aristide, a Catholic priest, swept to power in 1990. 'The legitimate Mayor, Evans Paul, is in hiding. We hope to provide the security for Evans Paul to do his job in a short time,' Mr Schrager said yesterday.

Some believe the US sees Mr Paul, a popular former broadcaster, as the ideal candidate to take over from Fr Aristide, who cannot run again in the November 1995 presidential elections. Mr Paul has an untarnished reputation, is intelligent and is seen by many American officials as a preferable leader to assuage those who find Fr Aristide unacceptable. Mr Paul was an ally of Fr Aristide in the run-up to their coalition's 1990 election victory but his own popular support has allowed him to criticise the elected President on occasion. Some Haitians believe Mr Paul had enough military contacts to stop the 1991 coup against Mr Aristide, but he opted not to.

Meanwhile, a top American officer said US forces could now move in to stop beatings or other civil disorder. 'American soldiers can use force proportionate to that used against them . . . and to protect the lives of others,' Colonel John Altenburg said.

(Photograph omitted)