- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 4, 2004

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said yesterday the letter he signed before his departure on Sunday was not a “formal resignation” and he plans to return to his country soon.

U.S. officials, however, urged Haiti and the international community to focus on “moving forward.” While they noted that only the Haitian people can choose their leaders, officials said Mr. Aristide has proven incapable of good governance.

They also said it was clear from his letter that he was stepping down and leaving the country voluntarily to prevent further bloodshed.

“The fact remains that Mr. Aristide resigned for the best interests of Haiti and the Haitian people, and he did so freely and of his own accord,” said National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack.

The former president, in an interview with French writer and Haiti expert Claude Ribbe, a recording of which was obtained by Agence France-Presse, said he is not “the kind of person to stay in exile.”

He added that, “before going back home,” he may stop in South Africa, which was reportedly his preferred final destination when he left Haiti. He has been in the Central African Republic since early Monday morning.

Mr. Aristide also insisted he is still Haiti’s president and accused France of “colluding” with the United States to oust him.

“There is a document that was signed to avoid a bloodbath, but there was no formal resignation,” he said. “This political kidnapping was the price to pay to avoid a bloodbath.”

Questions arose yesterday about the translation of his letter from Creole by the U.S. Embassy in Haiti.

“Tonight I am resigning in order to avoid a bloodbath. I accept to leave, with the hope that there will be life and not death,” said the embassy’s version.

But Albert Valdman, a linguistics professor and specialist in Haitian Creole at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., provided a different translation upon request from the Associated Press: “If tonight it is my resignation that will avoid a bloodbath, I accept to leave with the hope that there will be life and not death.”

Earlier yesterday, the United States rejected calls from Caribbean and South African leaders for a probe into Mr. Aristide’s departure.

“There is nothing to investigate,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. “Now that we are where we are, the focus needs to be on moving forward. There was no kidnapping. There was no coup. There were no threats. We sat down carefully with Mr. Aristide and analyzed the situation with him.”

On Wednesday, the Caribbean Community said it was “extremely disappointed” by the involvement of “Western partners” in Mr. Aristide’s exit and demanded an investigation.

Yesterday, South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma issued a similar statement.

“We join in the call for an investigation under the auspices of the United Nations to clarify these circumstances leading to the departure of President Aristide,” it said.

Mrs. Dlamini-Zuma’s deputy, Aziz Pahad, and another minister held previously scheduled meetings at the State Department yesterday, but officials said Mr. Aristide’s exile was not discussed.

Meanwhile in Haiti, a three-member commission with representatives of the government, the opposition and the United Nations began selecting a “council of wise men” that will name a new prime minister and Cabinet.

The meeting was held at the Organization of American States offices in Port-au-Prince, the capital. A statement issued afterward said: “It is expected that the work of the tripartite council will proceed very rapidly and that the decision process will finish in less than one week.”

After the 14-nation Caribbean Community refused Wednesday to participate in a peacekeeping force, two South American countries — Chile and Brazil — agreed to send forces in support of about 1,200 U.S., French and Canadian troops already on the ground.

Chile sent about 130 troops, but that number was expected to rise to 300.

A spokesman for Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said his country is preparing to dispatch 1,100 troops.

The spokesman, Andre Singer, said last night that French President Jacques Chirac told Mr. Lula in a telephone conversation that he and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan want Brazil to lead the multinational force.

“[Mr. Chirac] said it would be of the utmost importance that Brazil assume the command of that force,” Mr. Singer said. “The president of France said that this was the opinion of Kofi Annan as well.”

Canadian officials said earlier that military representatives from nine countries ready to take part in the force met yesterday at the headquarters of the U.S. Southern Command in Miami. They declined to identify the participants.

The St. Petersburg Times in Florida, meanwhile, reported that looters found stacks of $100 bills — possibly as much as $350,000 — in a hidden safe at Mr. Aristide’s mansion in the suburban town of Tabarre.

The bills were either crumbling into dust or stuck together so tightly that they could not be pulled apart, the newspaper said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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