- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The United States said yesterday it is not willing to intervene militarily in Haiti — as it did in 1994 — to shore up support for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide amid violence sweeping the country.

“We have no plans to do anything,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, as heavily armed rebels battled gangs loyal to Mr. Aristide in many of Haiti’s coastal cities.

A State Department official said the United States was watching the situation “on an hourly basis and trying gauge what the level of response should be.”

As of yesterday, the official said, Mr. Aristide still had control over the U.S.-trained police force — the largest law-enforcement apparatus in the country — but the situation was changing rapidly.

“We are very, very concerned about a further descent into lawlessness,” the official said.

In 1994 under President Clinton and with international backing, the United States sent troops to return Mr. Aristide to power after he was overthrown in a coup.

International donors cut of millions of dollars in aid after flawed legislative elections in 2000 that were won by Mr. Aristide’s party.

The opposition refuses to participate in new elections until Mr. Aristide steps down.

“Compromise is not a word in their vocabulary,” said the State Department official, referring to both Mr. Aristide and his detractors.

The official added that many former supporters of Mr. Aristide, frustrated with the level of poverty and corruption in his country, now wish he would step down.

At least 42 persons have died as police and armed rebels fight for control of several cities, leaving smoldering and littered streets in their wake.

The Associated Press reported that government forces have taken back the towns of St. Marc and Grand Goave in a move to quell the rebellion, which had spread to 11 cities.

The State Department official said every effort was being made to solve the crisis through diplomatic means — by direct contacts with the government and its opposition and through the Organization of American States and the regional Caricom group.

Another State Department official said Mr. Aristide is responsible for creating “a climate of violence through his use of gangs and political supporters.”

“It’s clear from the kind of proposals that have been made, and the discussions, that when we talk about undergoing change in the way that Haiti is governed, I think that could indeed involve changes in Mr. Aristide’s position,” this official said.

The World Food Program warned that the barricaded streets were holding up deliveries of desperately needed food in the country.

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