- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

The United States is sending a small team of military personnel to Haiti to assess security at the American Embassy in Port-au-Prince amid a bloody rebellion against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Pentagon said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the State Department urged all Americans to leave the impoverished nation long plagued by political instability and now ruled in some areas by bands of thugs.

Administration officials portrayed the dispatch of a military team as an embassy security mission and not the first step toward a full-bore intervention.

President Bush sent a small contingent of Marines into war-racked Liberia last year and then withdrew them quickly once stability was achieved.

Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez, deputy director for regional operations, told reporters at the Pentagon that the team was headed to Haiti at the request of Ambassador James Foley.

“It is focused on the Americans in the embassy and the protection of the official Americans,” Gen. Rodriguez said.

A U.S. official told the Associated Press that Mr. Aristide had rejected an American suggestion that he attempt to quell the violence by calling early elections.

Mr. Aristide, elected in 1990, was ousted by the military eight months later and took refuge in the United States. President Clinton ordered an invasion in 1994 that restored Mr. Aristide to power.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters on Tuesday, “We cannot buy into a proposition that an elected president can be forced from office by thugs.”

Mr. Aristide has requested U.S. assistance to end the 13-day uprising. But for now, Mr. Powell is trying to broker a cease-fire through the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community.

“There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing,” Mr. Powell said.

Yesterday on the radio show “Sam Donaldson Live in America,” Mr. Powell elaborated on his goals.

“We’re doing what we can to put together a political plan that we will offer to President Aristide and also to the political opposition,” the secretary said. “And I think if they will both accept this plan and start executing on it, we might find a way through this crisis politically. It is a difficult situation in Haiti right now. It’s a little hard to tell from day to day which cities are in whose hands.

“In many cases, it’s just a few thugs that are dominating a particular town or city, and so what we have to try to do now is stand with President Aristide — he is the elected president of Haiti — and do what we can to help him.”

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