- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2004

International diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Haiti James Foley, urged President Jean-Bertrand Aristide yesterday to form a new Cabinet with the opposition, headed by a premier aligned with neither, as a political solution to a two-week uprising that has left dozens dead.

The White House said the peace plan laid out by the diplomats — as armed gangs continued to rampage through the country — did not call for Mr. Aristide to step down.

“He is the leader of Haiti,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

Mr. Foley attended a brief morning meeting with Mr. Aristide, along with representatives from the Organization of American States, the European Union, the Caribbean Community (Caricom), France and Canada.

A separate meeting was scheduled with the political opposition, which is largely based in Port-au-Prince.

The same group of nations is slated to hold separate meetings today with both sides, with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega attending.

The delegation is offering both sides a Caricom-led political charter that would include the appointment of a neutral and independent prime minister. It would also call all sides to lay down their weapons and work toward a political solution.

“It’s a GPS,” said one State Department official, using the acronym for the global positioning system as an analogy to describe the first major international attempt to halt fighting since the revolt broke out earlier this month.

“We are in an intensive and delicate diplomatic negotiation, the primary purpose of which is to secure a peaceful resolution to the situation,” said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

“What we see in Haiti is a body politic that is broken, expectations of access to participation in the political process … not being fulfilled,” Mr. Ereli said.

“The important thing is to address these inadequacies and put together an entity, a government that can build a broad-based and participatory government that responds to the wishes of the people.”

The diplomatic offensive came as aid workers, missionaries and other foreigners were streaming into the airport to flee the country. The State Department on Thursday had warned U.S. citizens to leave while they could.

U.S. missionary Terry Snow said both pro-Aristide and opposition militia were burning houses and terrorizing people in St. Marc, about 40 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, the Associated Press reported.

The diplomatic effort to defuse the two-week uprising against Mr. Aristide will be bolstered today by senior officials flying in from the same countries that participated in yesterday’s meetings.

The second group would further emphasize their “common purpose and common cause” in trying to haul Haiti out of its current crisis and form a new government that would be acceptable to all parties, Mr. Ereli said.

The political opposition, based largely in Port-au-Prince, says it is not connected with violent gangs that have seized control of several cities in the past weeks.

The armed rebels, which include both former pro-Aristide militias and members of other paramilitary groups that once killed scores of Aristide supporters, have seized several towns in the north, are demanding Mr. Aristide step down.

“The opposition’s responsibility is to work together with all the political forces in the country in a spirit of unity and compromise,” Mr. Ereli said.

Armed government militiamen and police are fighting back, often executing suspected rebel sympathizers.

Mounting clashes have prompted the United States to dispatch a military team to assess security at its Port-au-Prince embassy.

Although not asking Mr. Aristide to step down, the United States has been critical of the former priest who was wildly popular when he first came to power in 1990 and was reinstated by 20,000 American troops that landed in Haiti in 1994.

Since then, Mr. Aristide has been accused of failing to address widespread corruption and poverty and is blamed for flawed 2000 legislative elections that were won by his party and resulted in million of dollars in international aid being frozen.

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