Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France issued a statement Wednesday calling for an “immediate” international civilian force to restore order in Haiti, where a rebellion threatens to topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
“This force would be charged with assuring the restoration of public order and support actions in the field of the international community,” Villepin said in the statement.
He said France also wanted human rights observers dispatched to Haiti and a “long term” engagement of international aid aimed at reconstructing its economy and society.
Villepin’s statement was highly critical of Aristide but stopped short of an outright demand for his resignation.
“As far as President Aristide is concerned, he bears grave responsibility for the current situation,” the statement said. “It’s up to him to draw the conclusions within the bounds of the law.”
Villepin said the international community must take urgent action because Haiti is on the verge of chaos.
“The international community must assume its responsibilities in order to preserve this country from disorder and violence,” the statement said.
France supports the establishment of a transitional “government of national unity,” headed by a designated prime minister, in accordance with a plan proposed by the 15-nation Caribbean Community.
In Washington, the United States was engaged in intense talks on a possible international security force for Haiti with France as well as the United Nations, Canada and the Caribbean Community, the State Department said.
“We’ve been talking with the other partners about how we can organize such a force, such an international security assistance if there is agreement to settle the political crisis,” said a State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher.
Secretary of State Colin Powell held interviews during the day with Villepin and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham of Canada, Boucher said.
Washington favors the idea of a police presence in Haiti, Boucher said, “that would help resolve some of the turmoil if there is a political framework for doing that.”
A closed door meeting with the United Nations Security Council in New York was dedicated to the crisis in Haiti on Wednesday, Boucher said, adding that a public session on the same subject was likely Thursday.
He gave no details, however, on the possible outcome of talks.
During a White House appearance with President Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia, President George W. Bush said, “We still hope to be able to achieve a political settlement between the current government and the rebels.”
While acknowledging that he was encouraging the international community to prepare for a strong security presence in Haiti, Bush asserted that international troops should only be sent to Haiti in connection with negotiations.
“Incident to a political settlement, we will encourage the international community to provide a security presence,” he said. In his Oval Office remarks, Bush urged Haitians not to flee the country and, reiterating a frequently stated policy of the administration, said refugees would be turned away.
“I have made it abundantly clear to the Coast Guard that we will turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore, and that message needs to be very clear, as well, to the Haitian people,” he said. “We encourage, strongly encourage, the Haitian people to stay home as we work to reach a peaceful solution to this problem.”
American officials are concerned that unrest in Haiti could generate an exodus of Haitians by sea, causing a refugee crisis in Florida, something that could figure in the presidential race this year. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter was thought by some political analysts to have been hurt in his re-election campaign by an influx of Cuban and Haitian refugees to Florida. Carter lost to Ronald Reagan that year.
Bush’s comments came a day after Haiti’s opposition leaders rejected a plan that would have allowed them to share power with Aristide.
“There will be no more delays; our answer remains the same,” Maurice Lafortune, the president of the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Aristide must resign.”
The action surprised Bush administration officials, who had drafted the power-sharing plan and seemed confident of their ability to deliver opposition support. But they secured the agreement only of Aristide, whom they have accused of antidemocratic behavior. (AP, NYT, AFP)