- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

JOHANNESBURG — The U.S. ambassador to South Africa, Cameron Hume, has been discussing the future of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with President Thabo Mbeki, an American diplomat said yesterday.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named, said that Mr. Hume and Mr. Mbeki met Thursday. It was not clear, however, whether any decisions had been taken.

The State Department in Washington would neither confirm nor deny that the meeting took place, but it insisted that Mr. Aristide’s fate is not an issue on which it is working.

“The U.S. government is not involved in discussions about Aristide’s onward travel to a third country,” a State Department official said.

But the official said that, if there had been a meeting, the subject could have been “raised by the other side.”

A State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, told reporters Secretary of State Colin L. Powell spoke by telephone with South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma yesterday. The conversation included the situation in Haiti but not specifically Mr. Aristide’s future, Mr. Ereli said.

The former president, who left Haiti on Sunday morning and arrived in the Central African Republic shortly after midnight, has accused the United States of forcing him out of power. On Thursday, he said the letter he signed before his departure was not a “formal resignation.”

Speculation has been rife in South Africa that Mr. Aristide would be granted asylum by his long-standing supporter, Mr. Mbeki. But with a general election due April 14, Mr. Mbeki has been cautious about extending him an offer of exile.

It emerged yesterday that South Africa sent equipment to Mr. Aristide’s police to battle rebels, but it arrived too late to help keep him in power.

A Defense Ministry letter obtained by the Reuters news agency said the unspecified gear, which media reports said included guns and bullets, was requested by Caribbean leaders and later arrived in Jamaica.

The Sunday Beeld newspaper said the shipment included 150 assault rifles, 5,000 rounds of ammunition, 200 smoke bombs and 200 bullet-proof jackets.

The Pretoria government has not publicly commented but confirmed the shipment in a March 4 letter to the opposition Democratic Alliance party, its fiercest critic in the run-up to the elections.

Mr. Mbeki was the only foreign head of state to attend the celebrations in January marking 200 years of Haiti’s independence from France.

Mr. Mbeki’s critics said his visit to Haiti amounted to approval of human rights abuses against Mr. Aristide’s opponents at a time of violent street protests against his rule.

Mr. Mbeki said that, as the world’s oldest black-governed republic, Haiti was a natural ally of South Africa and the “African Renaissance” he champions.

In Haiti yesterday, a seven-member “Council of Wise Men” was named to start building a new government. At least four of the seven are aligned with Mr. Aristide’s political opposition.

Thousands of furious supporters of Mr. Aristide poured out of Haiti’s slums and into the streets, marching on the U.S. Embassy to denounce the “occupation” of their homeland and demand Mr. Aristide’s return.

Nicholas Kralev in Washington contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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