Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Caribbean leaders to recognize interim Haitian leadership

AP , St. George's, Grenada

Caribbean leaders were expected to recognize Haiti's US-backed interim government at an annual summit starting yesterday despite lingering concerns over the removal of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Several leaders in the region say it's time to move forward, now that they have persuaded the Organization of American States to investigate what Aristide calls his Feb. 29 "kidnapping" by the US, a charge Washington flatly denies.

"We were all troubled when the elected president had to leave the country under some strange circumstances," Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell told parliament on Friday. "However, the reality is that Haiti continues to be a member of the international community and the people there do need our support, so we have to find ways of compromising."

Haitian Foreign Minister Yvon Simeon said he was to meet with seven Caribbean prime ministers on Saturday night as a step toward possible recognition by the Caribbean Community.

Following a meeting with foreign ministers, Simeon said he was optimistic about renewing ties.

"There have been a lot of misunderstandings and misinterpretations. We're willing to clarify these for CARICOM," he said.

Simeon said Haitian interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue would be willing to come, if invited. Most other leaders in the 15 member bloc were attending.

Latortue had a cordial telephone conversation with Community leaders on Friday, an official said on condition of anonymity.

The community withheld support for Latortue's government during a March summit in St. Kitts, expressing concern about the circumstances of Aristide's departure and Latortue's praise for armed rebels who still control much of Haiti's countryside.

Latortue had been expected at the summit but did not attend in protest at Jamaica giving Aristide temporary exile, saying the move would destabilize the country of 8 million.

But Aristide left Jamaica for South Africa on May 30 and Latortue, who had said he was suspending Haiti's membership in the community, has since made conciliatory statements.

"A lot of things are happening behind the scenes," Trinidadian Prime Minister Patrick Manning said recently, noting he had met with Latortue at an international summit in Mexico in May. "What the entire Caribbean is trying to do is to move on."

Aristide left Haiti on Feb. 29 on a US-chartered plane as rebels advanced on Port-au-Prince. He charges he was kidnapped by US and French agents, but US officials say they acted at his request.

His departure ended a three-week rebellion that left an estimated 300 dead. US-led troops sent to stabilize Haiti were replaced last month by a Brazilian-led peacekeeping force.

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