Beijing `punishes' Haiti for maintaining its ties with Taiwan


Mon, May 30, 2005 - Page 1

Haiti's need for UN peacekeepers to remain for an extended mandate suddenly took on new complexity this week, when the impoverished nation found itself entangled in the diplomatic standoff between China and Taiwan.

The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) with its 6,000 peacekeepers, including Chinese forces, costs US$500 million per year with its mandate due to expire on June 1.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the interim government of Haiti -- which has a long-standing relationship with Taiwan as opposed to China -- have called for the mandate to be extended by one year from that date.

But, say Western diplomats and Haitian officials, China is insistent that MINUSTAH's mandate be renewed for six months only, making the atmosphere at the UN Security Council, where Beijing has veto power, quite uncomfortable.

The reason for China's opposition? A visit to Taiwan -- which China views as its own renegade province -- by interim Haitian President Alexandre Boniface scheduled for July.

For the UN, curtailing the peacekeepers' mission in Haiti is out of the question.

The first elections since Aristide left office amid an uprising in February last year are to be held in Haiti later this year, beginning with a municipal vote on Oct. 9 to be followed by legislative and presidential elections to be held in two rounds on Nov. 13 and Dec. 18.

The country has had heightened incidents of violence in recent months.

A compromise, however, has been proposed that would see the peacekeepers' mandate extended for nine months instead. This weekend, China's partners at the Security Council were still waiting for its response.

While Taiwan has had close ties with Haiti for more than 40 years, the People's Republic of China does not have diplomatic relations with Haiti, and Beijing has only had a token trade office in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince for two years.

For China, though, it is unacceptable that the Haitian president would visit Taiwan, which it considers as part of its territory.

To undermine tension, Haitian interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue promised to make an official visit to Beijing in the autumn, but, according to a Haitian source, refuses to have the president's trip to Taiwan cancelled.

"It is out of the question to have China dictate the decisions," the source said.