South Africa to Become Permanent Home for Aristide
Opening the summit, Secretary-General Edwin Carrington regretted Aristide's absence, saying it "will no doubt be the first of much discussion over the next few days."
Wednesday night, Caribbean foreign ministers held a videoconference with U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega, the top American official for diplomatic affairs in the hemisphere.
The United States expressed a willingness to work with the 15-nation Caribbean Community and agreed with its position that "the rebels ... will play no part in government or in the military because it would be against U.S. policy," according to a report from St. Kitts Foreign Minister Timothy Harris.
Several Caribbean leaders, as well as human rights groups, have criticized Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue for hailing the rebels, who include assassins convicted for massacring Aristide supporters, as "freedom fighters."
Rights groups also have expressed shock that Latortue is entertaining rebel demands that he reconstitute the Haitian army that ousted Aristide in 1991 and murdered, maimed and tortured thousands of Haitians.
Last week, Latortue said he was suspending Haiti's participation in the bloc to protest Aristide's arrival in Jamaica at the invitation of Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, the community's chairman.
"There will be an extensive discussion on Haiti, but at the end of the day I'm sure we will still be engaged in Haiti. We have a few options as to how to deal with Haiti," St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told The Associated Press before entering talks.
He is among leaders who have refused to meet Haiti's new leader.
The Caribbean leaders canceled a scheduled meeting late Wednesday with Latortue. St. Kitts Prime Minister Denzil Douglas said leaders had been willing to meet with him if "he had only repudiated the position" toward the community and Jamaica.
Douglas said a meeting now appears unlikely for the near future and that Latortue would not attend the summit.
Caribbean leaders called for an international inquiry, but Carrington said a request would have to come from the U.N. Security Council. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent his Haiti adviser, Reginald Dumas, to the summit.
Angry Caribbean leaders have refused to participate in Haiti's U.N. peacekeeping force, noting the Security Council refused their pleas to send troops in time to save Aristide.
Under a U.S.-backed plan, Haiti's new government is to prepare legislative elections, which Latortue hopes to hold in six to eight months.
No country has ever been suspended from the 31-year-old Caribbean Community. Haiti was the last nation to join in 2002.
© 2004 The Associated Press