- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

JOHANNESBURG — Jean-Bertrand Aristide faces an uncertain future in Africa, with even his most faithful ally on the continent — South Africa — showing little interest in granting him asylum.

The ousted Haitian president arrived in Bangui, the remote capital of the Central African Republic, aboard a U.S.-provided flight from Antigua yesterday after an overnight journey and was whisked to the presidential palace.

“Aristide … is a free man,” CAR Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui, who greeted the ousted leader upon his arrival, told the Associated Press. “The heavy security measures around the presidential palace are for his own security.”

It was unclear what financial resources Mr. Aristide has at his disposal. While the opposition in Haiti has long accused him and his government of corruption, officials yesterday offered no specific accusation that he had spirited money abroad.

However, past Haitian leaders have enjoyed a comfortable exile. Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who fled to France in 1986, was said to have embezzled as much as $500 million and set himself up in a comfortable villa near Cannes.

Agence France-Presse reported that Mr. Aristide plans to continue from Bangui to permanent exile in South Africa, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa in Johannesburg said his government knew of no such arrangement.

“We know nothing of this and have not received any formal request from Mr. Aristide, the U.S. or anyone else,” Mr. Mamoepa said in a telephone interview. “And the South Africa government has not made any offer of exile or asylum.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria said the embassy had not raised the issue with South African authorities.

However, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma is reported to have discussed Mr. Aristide’s future in a telephone conference call on Saturday with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Haitian radio has also carried reports speculating that Mr. Aristide was headed for Johannesburg.

As support for Mr. Aristide ebbed in recent months, President Thabo Mbeki remained one of Mr. Aristide’s last supporters.

In January, his government gave $1.4 million towards Haiti’s celebrations marking 200 years of independence from France and Mr. Mbeki was the only foreign head of state to attend the event.

A Johannesburg newspaper reported last week that South Africa was sending 150 rifles, 200 smoke grenades, 200 bulletproof vests and 5,000 rounds of ammunition to help Mr. Aristide’s forces hold back the rebel advance.

Diplomatic sources in Pretoria said last night that Mr. Mbeki might not decide on asylum for Mr. Aristide before South Africa’s national elections on April 14.

Mr. Mbeki is already under attack from human rights groups for not taking a stronger stand against the government of neighboring Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe is accused of rigging elections and misusing power.

“He has enough problems with local tyrants without some guy from Haiti arriving on his doorstep,” one senior diplomat said. “Aristide may just have to cool his heels awhile in Bangui.”

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