- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2001

The Organization of American States yesterday rejected a request from the Haitian government for a mission to support democratic dialogue within Haiti and to monitor the government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide.

Joseph Philippe Antonio, Haiti's foreign minister, asked the OAS yesterday to create a "special mission" to Haiti that would have marked the return of the international community to Haiti.

"The position of the Haitian government is clear: more open dialogue in the spirit of compromise," Mr. Antonio said yesterday.

A draft resolution sponsored by more than a dozen Caribbean nations supported the creation of an OAS Commission of Support for Democracy in Haiti "in order to facilitate dialogue" between the Haitian government and its political opposition. But after four hours of debate, the OAS instead decided simply to continue its policy of "consultation" with the government and opposition groups.

Since parliamentary elections on May 21 last year, and the election of Mr. Aristide as president in November, Haiti has been internationally isolated and politically paralyzed.

International observers declared the May elections flawed and the international community cut off foreign aid to the impoverished nation. The OAS said that 10 of the parliamentarians elected, all of Mr. Aristide's party, should have gone to a runoff.

About $600 million in aid that had been pledged by the other nations and the international lending institutions was halted.

The United Nations also left after a senior U.N. official was assassinated, effectively leaving Haiti on its own.

In December, Mr. Aristide sent a letter to President Clinton promising to rectify the flawed election, include some opposition members in his government and appoint a new electoral council. The opposition rejected the offer and set up its own "alternative government" days before Mr. Aristide was inaugurated.

Yesterday, in an effort to assure the international community that Haiti has embraced democratic reform, Mr. Antonio promised that Haiti would hold early elections, in November 2002, to replace senators and legislators whose terms were to expire in 2004.

He said Haiti is committed to democracy, interdicting drugs, halting money laundering, and making technical adjustments to the economy.

U.S. observers of Haiti's political situation were skeptical about Mr. Antonio's request for an international commission.

"They don't need a commission," said a Republican House aide. "Aristide needs to keep the promises he has made to the country."

Georges Fauriol, a Haiti analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the government seems to hope that an OAS mission will give the Aristide government political cover and break the aid logjam. "Right now Aristide has no international credibility and he is in desperate need of cash," he said.

Tom Shannon, the U.S. alternate ambassador to the OAS, said that while the foreign minister's visit was welcome, negotiations between Haiti and the rest of the world "have yet to bear fruit. Haiti remains at a political impasse."

The Canadian ambassador, Peter Boehm, said any OAS commission must have a specific purpose, a time frame and financing to "avoid mission creep."

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