- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 16, 2004

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Haiti’s former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, returned to the Caribbean yesterday from exile in Africa for a family visit that U.S. officials and Haiti’s new government warn could upset Haiti’s fragile peace.

Mr. Aristide’s arrival in neighboring Jamaica raised tensions in Haiti and prompted Haiti’s newly sworn-in prime minister, Gerard Latortue, to withdraw his ambassador to Jamaica and suspend ties with the Caribbean Community economic bloc.

The ousted leader’s followers in Haiti have planned more demonstrations to demand the return of Mr. Aristide, who fled the country under disputed circumstances Feb. 29 with the help of U.S. forces.

Mr. Aristide and his wife, Mildred, arrived at Norman Manley International Airport, near Jamaica’s capital, in the early afternoon after an all-night flight from the Central African Republic aboard a chartered Gulfstream jet.

They were accompanied by Jamaican officials and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

Mr. Latortue had warned Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson last week that Mr. Aristide’s impending visit amounted to an “unfriendly act” by Jamaica’s leaders.

Mr. Aristide limited his remarks on arrival to thanking Mr. Patterson and others who had supported him, including black U.S. activist Randall Robinson and Mrs. Waters, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Mrs. Waters, who stood by Mr. Aristide after they landed, thanked Mr. Patterson and the 15-member Caribbean Community, or Caricom, “for welcoming our president, President Aristide, to Jamaica.”

Jamaica arranged for Mr. Aristide and his wife, a U.S. citizen, to be reunited here for up to 10 weeks with his two daughters, Christine, 7, and Michaelle, 5. They had been sent for their own safety to be with Mrs. Aristide’s mother in New York.

Jamaica’s foreign minister, K.D. Knight, has said Mr. Aristide would not be permitted to use Jamaica “as a launching pad to further any desire for reinstatement in Haiti.”

But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told CNN’s “Late Edition” on Sunday that “the hope is that he will not come back to the hemisphere and complicate situation.”

Mr. Aristide, a former priest who rose to power as a champion for the poor, had found temporary exile in the Central African Republic, an arrangement hastily engineered Feb. 29 after he resigned.

He was flown out of Haiti aboard a U.S.-chartered aircraft, as armed rebels swept through the country then threatened Haiti’s capital, intent on arresting Mr. Aristide or worse.

Mr. Patterson, who heads Caricom, has irritated U.S. officials over the past two weeks by giving credence to Mr. Aristide’s claim that the United States kidnapped him and shuttled him out of the country provoking a sharp and unusual public rebuke by the U.S. ambassador to Jamaica, Sue M. Cobb.

“Those words were heard by willing ears, resulting in surprisingly inflammatory rhetoric and an environment of hostility that I can only call markedly disappointing and unsophisticated in analysis,” Mrs. Cobb wrote in an opinion piece published March 7 in the London Observer.

She said Mr. Aristide triggered his own downfall with his use of “mob violence and hit squads as a policy for several years and his endorsement of assassinations of journalists who dared to criticize his actions.”

In Haiti, where Mr. Aristide’s kidnapping claims have been met with more skepticism, Mr. Latortue said the country has suffered increased tensions over Mr. Aristide’s Jamaica visit.

Mr. Aristide says he is still Haiti’s legitimate leader, providing his followers in Haiti grounds to oppose Mr. Latortue’s new government and threatening the half-island nation’s fragile peace.

A U.S.-led force of about 1,600 U.S. Marines and nearly 1,000 French troops are now patrolling Haiti. A Marine was shot and wounded Sunday evening while patrolling Port-au-Prince, underscoring Haiti’s tense calm.

Caricom’s leaders have had an up-and-down relationship with Mr. Aristide since he started to lose his grip on power in recent months.

In January, Mr. Patterson expressed concern about rights abuses in Haiti, Caricom’s newest member. He called on Mr. Aristide to release imprisoned university students and threatened unspecified sanctions against Haiti if Mr. Aristide failed to improve his governance.

But that criticism evaporated when Mr. Aristide, after arriving in the Central African Republic, said the United States had forced him out.

U.S. officials have dismissed Mr. Aristide’s claims as outlandish. Mr. Aristide resigned voluntarily, they say, and his hasty departure saved his life and prevented bloodshed.

Caricom’s leaders have called for a U.N.-led investigation, saying Mr. Aristide’s departure “set a dangerous precedent for democratically elected governments everywhere as it promotes the unconstitutional removal of duly elected persons from office.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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