Ban's U.N. Spokeswoman Fled Haiti

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 12:53 PM

-- In a Jan. 2 story about the U.N. secretary-general's new spokeswoman, The Associated Press erroneously reported that Michele Montas' husband was killed in April 2000 after his radio show criticized then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government. The broadcasts were critical of Aristide's party, but Aristide was not in power at the time.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Michele Montas' husband was assassinated six years ago in Haiti after he broadcast critical reports of the government on his radio program. She continued the broadcasts herself until gunmen opened fire on her home and sent her death threats, forcing her to flee the country.

On Tuesday, Montas began her new job on the other side of the microphone, conducting her first media briefing as spokeswoman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who succeeds Kofi Annan.

Though she would have preferred to stay in Haiti, she sees her new position as a way to further her causes in her home country and publicize other human rights abuses around the world.

"Working as a journalist in Haiti ... we touched people's lives on a daily basis," she said in an interview with The Associated Press at U.N. headquarters. "Of course, as a spokeswoman I will be talking about other things besides Haiti. However, it's always there and it's part of me."

Montas has been a spokeswoman before _ for the president of the U.N. General Assembly from September 2003 until September 2004, soon after she fled to New York.

She looked comfortable in her new and much larger role as Ban's main spokeswoman at Tuesday's media briefing, flashing a warm smile as she bantered with a crowded room full of journalists and answering a barrage of questions in her rapid-fire, accented English.

The U.N. press corps did not go easy, peppering her with tough questions about Ban's stance on the death penalty, the situation in Darfur and Ban's appointments to senior U.N. positions.

Montas began her journalism career in Haiti in the early 1970s with her husband, Jean Dominique. Dominique's station, Radio Haiti-Inter, was attacked several times in the 1980s and 1990s, and the couple was forced to flee the country twice to briefly live in exile.

Dominique, the country's most prominent anti-government journalist, was assassinated in April 2000 after broadcasting increasingly strident criticisms of Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party on his program.

Montas took over the radio station, but shut it down in February 2003 and fled to New York after her bodyguard was gunned down in an attack on her home and she received several death threats.

The decision to stop broadcasting is still painful to her.

"We all felt very strongly that we couldn't put any more lives in danger. We had to do it, so we did it. It was not a choice," she said.

Montas has not stopped speaking out about Dominique's slaying, though. She helped director Jonathan Demme produce a 2003 documentary about her husband's life called "The Agronomist."

Media freedom groups have faulted the Haitian government for failing to bring Dominique's killers to justice.

Montas said the investigation has been "completely blocked" through intimidation tactics such as the slaying of witnesses, threats against judges and the attack on her home in Haiti.

Whether she will eventually return to Haiti is also in doubt.

"I would eventually want to go back. It's my country. Would the condition allow me to go back? At this point, no. Will it happen in the future? I hope so," Montas said.

© 2007 The Associated Press