- The Washington Times - Friday, March 12, 2004

From combined dispatches

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The new Haitian premier said yesterday that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s planned Caribbean trip could threaten efforts to stabilize the country still in turmoil two weeks after the leader left amid a popular rebellion.

“Having former President Aristide in Jamaica, so close, is in our view … an unfriendly act,” said Gerard Latortue, 69, who was sworn in under heavy security yesterday .

Mr. Latortue, who spent much of his life in exile, took the oath promising to unite the country after months of bloodshed and political strife.

“This is an occasion for hope for all Haitians,” he said.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Latortue criticized Jamaica for inviting Mr. Aristide to visit soon after fleeing the region for exile in the Central African Republic.

He said Mr. Aristide’s trip “could be a threat to stability in Haiti,” and that he had conveyed his concerns to Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.

Mr. Latortue also said he wants to hold legislative elections in six to eight months to resolve the country’s political crisis.

The political developments came as U.S. Marines reported yesterday they came under fire overnight at a factory that produces garments for American companies. Gunmen also shot up a nearby car dealership.

Jamaican officials have said Mr. Aristide and his wife requested permission for the trip to be reunited with their two young daughters, who were sent to New York City for their safety days before their father fled Haiti on Feb. 29.

Jamaica’s government insisted yesterday that Mr. Aristide won’t be allowed to use their territory as a base to reclaim power.

“It has been made very clear to … Aristide that Jamaica is not to be used as a launching pad to further any desire for reinstatement in Haiti,” Jamaican Foreign Minister K.D. Knight said.

Reports from the Central African Republic quoted officials as saying that Mr. Patterson is expected to arrive in Bangui, the capital, on Sunday to escort the ex-leader to Jamaica.

In Washington, the State Department said that, if Mr. Aristide wanted to come to the United States, he would have to apply for an entry visa at an American consulate abroad and his application would be considered as one of thousands reviewed every day around the world.

However, Mr. Aristide’s wife and children, who are American citizens, are free to visit the United States at any time, Richard Boucher, the department’s spokesman, told reporters.

“I don’t think he has a currently valid U.S. visa or residency permit,” Mr. Boucher said of the former president. “So he’d have to, like a normal person, apply and qualify.”

U.S. officials would not say whether accusations that Mr. Aristide was involved in drug trafficking, made by a convict recently in Florida, would have any effect on his ability to obtain a visa.

Beaudoin “Jacques” Ketant, one of Haiti’s most notorious drug traffickers who was sentenced to 27 years in prison and fined $30 million by a Miami judge last month, said as part of his guilty plea that he had received help from Mr. Aristide.

“He is a drug lord. He controlled the drug trade in Haiti,” Ketant said of Mr. Aristide. “He turned the country into a narco-country.”

Mr. Aristide’s security chief, Oriel Jean, who is also suspected of involvement in drug trafficking, was arrested at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport on Wednesday night and turned over for questioning to Canada’s immigration authorities, the country’s border authorities said yesterday. They declined to give the reason for the arrest.

Newspaper reports said Mr. Jean was in a holding cell after being detained while traveling with his wife, carrying $17,000 in cash and a check for about $300,000.

In Port-au-Prince, Cabinet Minister Leslie Voltaire said Mr. Latortue was seeking to hold elections within eight months and had reassured politicians from Mr. Aristide’s Lavalas party that they would be part of the transitional government to be formed under a U.S.-backed plan.

The opposition in elections would be drawn from the Democratic Platform coalition that united against Mr. Aristide but includes disparate groups ranging from right-leaning coup supporters to liberal rights activists.

Meanwhile U.S. Marines yesterday trained their rifles on workers and checked identity papers at the industrial park near the airport, acting on reports gunmen were planning to confiscate paychecks.

The actions of the Marines drew complaints: “We came here to work and we were forced to duck our heads below these Americans’ rifles,” said Myracia Batraville, 42, who makes $1.70 a day sewing T-shirts sold by J.C. Penney Co. Inc.

The Marines said they came under fire at the complex Thursday night, but there were no injuries.

Nearby, they inspected damage at a Toyota dealership shot up by gunmen overnight. Show windows were shattered and walls pockmarked with gunshots.

Staff reporter Nicholas Kralev contributed to this article from Washington.

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