US denounces Haiti's puppet president

PRESIDENT Bill Clinton's administration last night dismissed the appointment of a new pro-military puppet president in Haiti as illegitimate, and several Democratic members of Congress said a credible US military force might be needed to restore democracy to the Caribbean country.

A State Department spokesman said the army-backed installation of Supreme Court Justice Emil Jonassaint was 'purely illegitimate to begin with' and will have no impact on US efforts to restore elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power.

Despite those statements, the Clinton administration continued to send conflicting signals on the possible despatch of US troops to help restore democracy in Haiti. Quoting unnamed diplomats and Haitian officials, the Los Angeles Times had reported that Washington planned to send 'at least 600' heavily armed troops to the island to 'purge' the Haitian army, whether or not the current regime of General Raoul Cedras surrenders power.

The claim was immediately rejected by the White House. Spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers acknowledged that President Bill Clinton had not ruled out the use of force, 'but I can't imagine sending in some kind of people to achieve a mission like that'. At the Pentagon, the Defense Secretary, William Perry, was said to be 'perplexed' by the report.

But earlier, Madeleine Albright, the UN ambassador, did not specifically deny the report, admitting the administration was examining various contingency plans. Even if the threatened UN sanctions did bring down the military regime, some kind of outside force would be needed to keep order and help with rebuilding the country, she said.

The charitable explanation put on the varying versions was that the US was seeking to keep General Cedras and his colleagues off balance; the less kindly was that they were further evidence of indecision and confusion in administration foreign policy making.

If the US forces were technically under the UN umbrella, the reported plan could comply with last year's Governor's Island agreement in New York whereby a UN military and police force would go to Haiti following the return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The latest UN measure calls for a tight economic embargo on Haiti from 21 May if General Cedras has not stepped down.

But yesterday brought scant sign he would do so. Guarded by well-armed Haitian troops, right-wing members of Haiti's parliament apparently installed the 81-year-old Mr Jonassaint as the new President, replacing the democratically elected Fr Aristide.

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