Leading Article: Haiti at risk from the Somalia effect

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The Independent Online
IT HAPPENED in Haiti, but it could be called the Somalia effect. On Monday an amphibious landing ship carrying 193 US troops and 25 Canadians was prevented by armed civilians backed by the police and military from docking at Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The same happened yesterday - and a US television team was evicted. The troops were the advance guard of a larger UN contingent due to pave the way for the return of the country's first democratically elected president, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Under the terms of a UN-brokered agreement concluded in July, Haiti's military rulers were due to make way for the man they overthrew and attempted to kill in September 1991 - just nine months after he was elected with 67 per cent of the vote. Latterly they have shown their lack of enthusiasm for the Catholic priest by terrorising and killing his supporters.

In all this they have certainly been emboldened by General Farah Aideed's attacks on UN and US troops in Mogadishu, and by public and political reaction in the United States to America's blundering, heavy-handed tactics and the resulting casualties there. Some of those manning the barricades on Monday even commented: 'We're going to make a second Somalia here.' Voicing growing doubts about intervention, the US Defense Secretary, Les Aspin, recently suggested that US troops should remain on board ship off Haiti's coast. Monday's episode was not what Mr Aspin had in mind, but the effect was the same.

The potential for tragedy is great. Haiti's brutal rulers may succeed in proving that Father Aristide's life would be at risk if he returns as scheduled on 30 October. The poorest country in the world would thus continue to suffer under the dictatorship of General Raoul Cedras, his police chief, Lieutenant-Colonel Michel Francois, and their armed 'attaches'.

Yet another humiliation for the US and the UN could fuel American hostility to any further attempts at US intervention, however justified and well conceived. The pity of it all is that the Haitian operation was a good idea and well thought out, even if a primary aim was, less idealistically, to prevent another wave of refugees heading for the US.

If it now turns sour, two dangers arise. America's isolationist tendency seems certain to be strengthened, while - alternatively or simultaneously - pressure could grow for a display of military machismo to soothe bruised national pride. Whoever is at the receiving end, the cause of world peace is unlikely to benefit.