Tuesday, April 6, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday rejected a proposed U.N. probe into former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s departure, saying the United States had helped to prevent a blood bath.

Haitian Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, standing beside Mr. Powell at a press conference, announced that all major political parties and civilian groups had agreed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections next year.

Mr. Powell urged Haitians and other Caribbean nations that have refused to recognize the country’s interim government to look to the future instead of revisiting the events of Feb. 29, when Mr. Aristide flew to exile in the Central African Republic.

The secretary, the highest-ranking Bush administration official to visit Haiti, said during a one-day visit to Port-au-Prince that “no purpose will be served” by an investigation of what happened that night.

Other Caribbean leaders have demanded a probe and their call has been backed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

“I believe we prevented a blood bath from taking place,” Mr. Powell told reporters.

“Today, the Haitian people have the chance for a new beginning,” he said. “I urge the proud people of Haiti to come together in peace, to seize this new chance to put your country firmly on the path to democracy.”

Mr. Latortue accused Mr. Aristide, who is now in Jamaica, and others who left with him, of “cleaning up the Central Bank,” causing even more suffering to the impoverished nation.

“The country is in a state of total bankruptcy,” Mr. Latortue said. “Those who were here before left the country with absolutely nothing.”

Mr. Aristide, who accuses the United States and France of conspiring to force him out of power, filed a lawsuit in Paris last week accusing unnamed French officials of “death threats, kidnapping and sequestration” in connection with his flight to Africa.

The Bush administration insists that Mr. Aristide had personally asked for help and voluntarily boarded a U.S. plane. “He drafted and signed his letter of resignation all by himself and then voluntarily departed with his wife and his own security team,” Mr. Powell said yesterday.

He also said U.S. authorities are investigating accusations that Mr. Aristide either condoned or participated in drug trafficking.

Mr. Latortue did not give dates or other details about next year’s elections or about Haiti’s future government.

He vowed, however, that criminal elements from Mr. Aristide’s rule — as well as from the current government — who condone violence and engage in corruption, would not be allowed to serve after the vote.

The prime minister also announced the formation of a Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, similar to the one in South Africa after the end of apartheid.

Meanwhile, the United States plans to send a seven-member team to Haiti immediately to advise the interim government on security issues, the State Department said yesterday, according to United Press International.

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