Thu, Jul 08, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Caribbean treading carefully over its Haiti reengagement

AP , St. George's, Grenada

Caribbean leaders on Tuesday decided to send a delegation of foreign ministers to meet with Haiti's interim prime minister, but stopped short of officially recognizing his government, the prime minister of St. Kitts said.

The announcement came after prime ministers from the region retreated to a private island to debate the legitimacy of Haiti's interim government and whether it should be allowed to return to the Caribbean Community.

Haiti's interim government suspended membership in the 15-member regional bloc after Jamaica gave temporary refuge to former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The bloc then withheld support for the interim government at a March summit, raising concerns over Aristide's claim of a coup orchestrated by the US government.

"We have agreed to officially engage Haiti," St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said. "We were able to arrive at a position that everyone finds comfort with."

Leaders from the region said they would send a team of five foreign ministers to Haiti as soon as possible to discuss preconditions before fully recognizing the interim government, Douglas said.

He said one of the conditions was to disarm armed rebels who staged the rebellion against Aristide. The foreign ministers would return and submit a report, Douglas said.

After starting their annual summit in Grenada on Sunday, leaders of the regional bloc on Tuesday retreated to Calivigny Island owned by French businessman George Cohen, who is building a high-scale resort on the island.

Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and the Bahamas have said they would support Haiti's return to the regional bloc. Cabinet ministers from several other nations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said they planned to follow suit and welcome Haiti's return.

St. Vincent would not back the recognition, according to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, and Belize, Trinidad, Barbados, Suriname and Grenada have said they will support recognition only under certain conditions, including setting a date for general elections and releasing former prime minister Yvon Neptune.

Neptune went into hiding two weeks after Aristide's departure and turned himself in to authorities last week to face accusations of orchestrating political killings. He has denied wrongdoing.

A three-member Haitian delegation led by Foreign Minister Yvon Simeon was invited to meet informally with leaders but was barred from participating in formal talks until member nations decide whether to recognize Haiti.

Simeon said he would not comment until a formal announcement had been made, due yesterday.

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