Washington warns Haiti plotters

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The Independent Online

in Miami.

A reported plot against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and a sour welcome for the former US President Jimmy Carter have raised the spectre of renewed conflict after US forces pull out of Haiti next month.

Two leading supporters of the deposed dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier were said to be planning to undermine Haiti's fragile democracy, starting by disrupting the popular annual carnival, which opens tomorrow.

Brigadier General James Hill, second in command of US forces on the island, summoned Franck Romain, former mayor of Port-au-Prince, and Williams Regala, a retired army general, to warn them off, US embassy officials said. "We called them in and told them to cool it. They were up to mischief."

Mr Romain was widely linked with a massacre in the capital's St Jean Bosco church in 1988 in which a dozen worshippers were shot or hacked to death and Fr Aristide, a Catholic priest, narrowly escaped.

General Regala was part of a junta which took over from Mr Duvalier in February 1986 and is believed to have been behind election day violence in November 1987 that left 30 dead and forced cancellation of the vote for the presidency.

Mr Carter's visit hardly compares with that of September last year, when he, Senator Sam Nunn and the former US Chief of Staff General Colin Powell reached a deal with the then military rulers to leave the country and allow an unopposed US occupation while paratroops were in the air, ready to invade the Caribbean nation.

Mr Carter, who arrived in Port-au-Prince on Thursday and was joined by Senator Nunn and General Powell yesterday, was welcomed by no one from Fr Aristide's government but many graffiti suggested he "go home." Fr Aristide, restored to power by the Americans last October after the departure of those who had sent him into exile, had gracious words for Mr Carter but the cool-to-hostile welcome reflected a feeling that the US had been too soft on the military rulers by allowing them to go into comfortable exile from which they could return.

Some Haitians said they feared Mr Carter had come to encourage and organise anti-Aristide groups in the run-up to key legislative and local elections on 4 June.

An Aristide spokesman said Mr Carter had asked the Haitian President for assurances that he would remain neutral in the elections and Fr Aristide had replied that he would "try to be no more than a referee."

The crux of the matter is that there is still a widespread feeling in the US, including government circles, that Fr Aristide is a dangerous leftist radical and even mentally unbalanced, a line put forward over the past two years by the CIA.

Mr Carter's visit was seen by some of Fr Aristide's opponents as an attempt to dissuade the priest from any attempt to retain power after February 1996 despite a constitutional ban on consecutive terms.

"Aristide for 10 years" was among the graffiti greeting the American delegation and a group of young people marching through Port-au-Prince in a pre-carnival procession suddenly began shouting "Aristide for Life." That was eerily reminiscent of the self-declared title used by "Baby Doc" and his father, Franois "Papa Doc" Duvalier - President-for-Life.