Pretoria – Neither President Thabo Mbeki nor armed South African troops were welcome in Haiti, a Haitian civil society grouping, Groupe 184, said on Wednesday.

“South Africans, please do not be fooled — the majority of Haitians are not pleased, proud or welcoming of President Thabo Mbeki?s visit to Haiti,” it said in an e-mailed statement.

“In fact, his visit is viewed as an insult to most of us and to the memory of our forefathers who fought for our independence and our liberty during 12 long years.”

“Two hundred years ago these brave men proved to the world that a tiny black state could indeed be a sovereign nation worthy of their own independence. They set an example that other nations throughout the world later followed,” the statement said.

Mbeki, along with his wife Zanele and Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, was to attend the celebrations of two centuries of Haitian independence from France on New Year?s Day.

South Africa has offered Haiti R10m “as material support” for its celebrations.

On Monday, Mbeki told journalists in the Bahamas it was proper that South Africa had donated the money. Those who criticised the action “don?t know anything about the bicentennial,” he was quoted as saying.

In an article in South Africa?s Sunday Times this week, he wrote : “The celebration of the bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution and the Decade of Liberation in South Africa during the same year, 2004, must serve to inspire all Africans to act together, decisively, to end their poverty, underdevelopment, dehumanisation and marginalisation.”

It was reported that the SA Navy replenishment vessel SAS Drakensberg would serve as a safe haven for Mbeki and his party if the situation in Haiti got out of hand.

Groupe 184 said : “Today, in Haiti the spirit is not one of joyful celebration. Again, we find ourselves fighting for liberty, equality and fraternity against a totalitarian dictatorship that has played a devastating role in Haiti?s depletion.

“This oppressive government that had promised Haitians prosperity and peace has instead perverted the country through violence, drug trafficking, and abject poverty – this is the same government that President Thabo Mbeki is supporting with his presence in Haiti,” the statement said.

“The deployment of armed South African troops on our sovereign territory is indeed a contradiction to what our forefathers had intended for us two hundred years ago.”

It concluded : “President Thabo Mbeki, you and your armed troops are not welcomed in Haiti. Go back home and try to regain Nelson Mandela?s spirit.”

Mbeki?s spokespeople could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to its website, Groupe 184 is a formation of civil society groups that committed themselves last December to promote respect for the laws and norms of their republic and democratic principles.

The original 184 signatories have since grown to over 300, it says.