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Aristide quits African exile for Jamaica
Updated: 2004-03-15 14:06

Exiled Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide left Central African Republic on Monday for a controversial visit to Jamaica.

Aristide, who arrived in Africa two weeks ago after being chased from his Caribbean nation by an armed rebellion, flew out despite strong U.S. and Haitian objections.

"Yes, the plane left at 2:15 local time," said a security official at the airport of the Central African Republic's capital, Bangui.

The departure of Aristide, who says he is still Haiti's elected president and was forced out of office by U.S. troops -- a charge hotly denied by Washington -- left after a delegation mainly of U.S. and Jamaican lawmakers flew in on Sunday to whisk him back to the Caribbean.

The delegation included Randall Robinson, the former head of black U.S. lobbying group TransAfrica, whose wife told Reuters Aristide was due to make refueling stops, including one in Senegal, before reaching Jamaica.

Hazel Ross Robinson said she spoke to her husband by telephone shortly before the plane took off. Asked if Aristide was aboard, she said: "Yes, that's my understanding."

Jamaica's prime minister has said Aristide would spend up to 10 weeks in Haiti's close Caribbean neighbor.

While Aristide has not been granted asylum in Jamaica, the planned visit has been slammed by Haiti for stoking tensions there as U.S. and French troops battle to restore order.

Haiti's interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue said allowing Aristide to visit Jamaica, just 115 miles from Haitian shores, would be an "unfriendly act."

Washington supported the view Aristide should stay away.

"We think it's a bad idea. We believe that President Aristide, in a sense, forfeited his ability to lead his people, because he did not govern democratically," White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, on CNN's "Late Edition," added: "And the hope is that he will not come back into the hemisphere and complicate (the) situation."

Jamaican lawmaker Sharon Hay Webster told reporters the delegation's goal was to arrange for the ousted leader to see his two young U.S.-based children in Jamaica.

Aristide, who has been living with his wife in the Central African Republic, flew out of Bangui before Monday's planned celebrations in the country to mark President Francois Bozize's coming to power in a coup d'etat on March 15 last year.

Washington says Aristide, a former parish priest regarded as a messiah by many of the poor he championed but accused of despotism and corruption by his enemies, resigned and left his country voluntarily.

The U.S. and Jamaican delegation included U.S. congresswoman Maxine Waters. Robinson has said Aristide was kidnapped by U.S. forces.

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