- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appealed yesterday for the world to come to Haiti’s aid, warning that a rebel uprising could lead to thousands of deaths and a wave of boat people.

An opposition politician said afterward that the coalition was drafting a letter to reject a U.S.-backed international peace plan because it does not require Mr. Aristide to resign.

At a news conference earlier in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Aristide warned that rebel attacks in the north could be disastrous for Haiti.

“Should those killers come to Port-au-Prince, you may have thousands of people who may be killed,” he said. “We need the presence of the international community as soon as possible.”

Asked whether he was calling for a military intervention, Mr. Aristide said he wanted the international community to strengthen Haiti’s police force, under an old agreement with the Organization of American States.

On Monday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called officials from the opposition coalition and persuaded them to delay their response to the peace plan as the United States and others appeared to be making last-ditch efforts to win a political compromise.

But a prominent member of the coalition said a letter was being drafted to Mr. Powell stating that it would not accept the peace plan because it did not call for Mr. Aristide to step down.

“There will be no more delays. Our answer remains the same. Aristide must resign,” said Maurice Lafortune, president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, which is a member of the Democratic Platform coalition.

Mr. Lafortune said the letter would be delivered to the OAS representative in Haiti, David Lee of Canada.

The United States may seek a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the dispatch of international peacekeepers to Haiti if a settlement between government and opposition forces is reached, a U.S. official said yesterday.

The rebels have set up a base in Gonaives, Haiti’s third-largest city 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, and rebel leader Guy Philippe said he was setting up a second one in Cap-Haitien, the northern port and second-largest city that was seized Sunday.

But Mr. Philippe told the Associated Press in an interview that he has been using a strategy of seizing towns, systematically driving out enemies, winning over the population and moving to the next target. The rebels effectively control the north now.

He said he does not want to install a military dictatorship but is seeking to re-establish the army that was disbanded after ousting Mr. Aristide in 1991.

Mr. Aristide agreed to a power-sharing plan Saturday, but his political opponents insist that only his resignation can guarantee peace.

The United States sent 50 Marines to Port-au-Prince on Monday, but Western diplomats and a Defense Department official insisted their mission was only to protect the U.S. Embassy and staff.

At his news conference, Mr. Aristide made an emotional call for Haitians to stay in the country, instead of fleeing to Florida, so that they can vote in new elections.

Most boat people seeking to go to the United States are picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard and returned home. Others land in the Bahamas and Cuba. On Monday, 32 Haitian boat people landed in Jamaica, bringing to 62 the number who have arrived there in three boatloads in the past 10 days.

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