- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — President Jean-Bertrand Aristide agreed yesterday to a U.S.-backed peace plan calling for shared power with political opponents, a new prime minister and fresh legislative elections.

But Mr. Aristide, who gets to remain president, appeared to lay down a condition. He declared he would “not go ahead with any terrorists,” referring to rebels who have led a bloody 2-week-old uprising that has killed more than 60 people and chased police from dozens of towns.

The president’s consent came hours after U.S.-led diplomats arrived in the Haitian capital to push the agreement. The envoys met later yesterday with opposition leaders, urging them to accept a deal that falls short of their demand that the embattled Mr. Aristide resign.

Although not allied, Haiti’s rebels and political opponents both insist that Mr. Aristide leave office. Throughout the recent bloodshed, the president has said he will not step down before his term ends in 2006.

“The plan attempts to pull his teeth, but doesn’t have the means,” opposition leader Evans Paul said before meeting with the diplomats. He also complained that the U.S.-backed plan fails to call for foreign peacekeepers to enforce it.

Amid the negotiations, the State Department ordered the withdrawal of all nonessential U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Embassy, citing continuing violence in the Caribbean nation.

The U.S.-backed plan requires the government and opposition to agree by Tuesday to a three-way commission of representatives from both sides and international delegates. It also calls for the appointment of a prime minister agreeable to both sides and for parliamentary elections.

“We have agreed to have a new government with a new prime minister,” Mr. Aristide said after a two-hour-long meeting with the diplomatic mission, led by Roger Noriega, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Yesterday’s breakthrough came a day after militant Aristide loyalists attacked antigovernment protesters, hurling rocks and bottles, firing shotguns and swinging machetes. No police arrived to protect the protesters, and at least 14 persons were injured. A journalist, shot twice in the back, was in serious condition.

Opposition leaders got news of Friday’s violence as U.S. Ambassador James Foley and five other diplomats were giving them a timetable for the peace plan — of which two key points are disarming politically motivated gangs and setting rules for political demonstrations.

Mr. Aristide accuses the political opposition of supporting the armed rebellion, which erupted Feb. 5. Of the casualties, about 40 police have been killed in gunbattles and other violence with rebels who have attacked them and burned police stations across northern Haiti.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe said Friday the next rebel target is Haiti’s second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, where he served as police chief before fleeing in 2000 amid charges that he plotted a coup.

Mr. Aristide’s spokesman, Mario Dupuy, said that “the government hopes the mission will be able to detach the opposition from acts and actors of violence” and that the opposition “has a chance to prove it is not in favor of violence and terrorism.”

Mr. Noriega was accompanied by diplomats from a range of nations in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. The international community’s message appeared to have been that Mr. Aristide must accept the plan or confront the rebels alone.

Scores of Americans, including missionaries and aid workers, left Haiti on Friday after the United States urged them to flee the mounting violence in government-held areas and threats of new rebel attacks over this Carnival weekend.

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