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Caribbean leaders call for probe of Aristide's exit
Updated: 2004-03-04 14:14

The Caribbean Community on Wednesday called for an international inquiry into the circumstances of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's exile from Haiti and said it would not contribute troops to an multinational peacekeeping force.

Aristide, who left Haiti for exile in the Central African Republic on Sunday, has claimed U.S. officials forced him out and likened his departure to a kidnapping.

U.S. officials have called that charge nonsense and said they provided a plane to ferry him to safety after he voluntarily resigned to prevent a bloody showdown with the rebels controlling much of his country.

Meeting in emergency session in Jamaica, leaders of the 15-nation Caricom group stopped short of condemning the United States' action but called for an independent international body such as the United Nations to investigate the contradictory reports about Aristide's exit.

"Despite what we have heard in public and despite what we have learned in private, we simply say that the situation calls for an investigation of what transpired," Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson told journalists after the two-day meeting ended.

He said Aristide told the Caricom leaders by phone from the Central African Republic on Tuesday that he was safe and in good mental and physical health.

Haiti is a Caricom member and Caricom has been at the forefront of efforts to find a solution to Haiti's political crisis. The group brokered a power-sharing deal that would have allowed Aristide to remain as head of state, but his political opposition rejected it and Aristide left Haiti as armed rebels approached the capital.

"Despite whatever might have happened, we are reiterating our commitment to the people of Haiti," said Patterson, Caricom's chairman.

Patterson said an international peacekeeping force was "necessary and vital" but the Caricom nations would concentrate instead on providing other kinds of aid to the United Nations stabilization force that is to replace the troops.

"In this way we can provide humanitarian assistance to rebuild the economy and civil society, to the reconstitution of the democratic structures," he said.

Patterson said Caricom leaders would meet again on March 25 and 26 in St. Kitts to review Haiti's situation, and discuss whether Haiti should be suspended from the regional group because of the changes in its government.

"We are not prepared to deliberate in any of our meetings with thugs, anarchists and persons who have a reputation which is contrary to the tenets of civil society to which we subscribe," Patterson said.

"We are greatly alarmed and dismayed at the situation in Haiti, at the departure from office of President Aristide and the consequences to the constitutional democracy and to law and order in Haiti."

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