Haiti's Aristide Will Stand Up to Rebels
By MICHAEL NORTON
The Associated Press
Thursday, February 19, 2004; 7:38 PM
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - President Jean-Bertrand Aristide declared Thursday he is ready to die to defend his country against a bloody rebellion, indicating he plans to cling to power. The U.S. government, citing continued violence, urged Americans to leave Haiti.
Aristide's defiance and Washington's warning came as the United States and other countries were preparing a political plan to resolve the crisis. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the plan could be presented to Haitian government and opposition leaders as early as Thursday.
The Pentagon said it was sending a small military team to assess the security of the U.S. Embassy and its staff in the Caribbean country.
The last major government bastion in northern Haiti was Cap-Haitien, where armed supporters of Aristide patrolled the city Thursday, vowing to fight any rebel attempt to seize control. Frightened police remained barricaded in their station, saying they were too few and poorly armed to repel any attack. Both sides have committed reprisal killings, and dozens of homes have been torched.
"I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country," Aristide told stony-faced police officers honoring slain comrades at a ceremony in Port-au-Prince, the capital in the south.
"If wars are expensive, peace can be even more expensive," warned Aristide, who has survived three assassination attempts and a coup.
Amid the chaos, the United States urged Americans to leaves Haiti. More than 20,000 Americans, at least a quarter of them missionaries, are registered with the U.S. Embassy.
Peace Corps personnel were being withdrawn, and other U.S. citizens should leave while commercial transportation is still available, the State Department said.
"American citizens should be aware that the U.S. Embassy has prohibited travel by its staff outside of Port-au-Prince," the warning said.
It added that the embassy's ability to provide emergency services to American citizens outside the capital city was limited and had "drastically decreased in recent days due to numerous random roadblocks set up by armed groups."
In Washington, Powell said the emerging political plan does not contemplate Aristide's stepping down before his term ends in February 2006, as Haiti's political opposition and rebels are demanding. But he said the United States would not object if, as part of a negotiation with opposition leaders, Aristide agreed to leave ahead of schedule.
"I think if they will both accept this plan and start executing on it, we might find a way through this crisis politically," Powell told ABC Radio's "Live in America."
But the plan does not address how to end the northern rebellion, which has killed dozens of people. Among the dead are about 40 police officers, according to Jean-Gerard Dubreuil, Haiti's undersecretary for public security.
Powell said the international community must do what it can to help Aristide in his capacity as Haiti's elected leader. But many countries, including the United States, have accused Aristide of using police and militant supporters to stifle opposition.
© 2004 The Associated Press