Originally: Mbeki Returns Home

Mbeki returns home
04/01/2004 14:36  – (SA)   Pretoria – President Thabo Mbeki has returned to South Africa after attending turbulent bicentennial celebrations in Haiti, but left a minister in Port-au-Prince to continue discussions on the situation in the troubled Caribbean island state, his spokesperson said on Sunday.

Bheki Khumalo said Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma remained there to continue talks with the government of President Jean Bertrand Aristide as well as opposition groups which opposed Mbeki’s visit.

“The president returned late last night (Saturday) but the foreign affairs minister stayed behind to continue talks,” Khumalo told AFP.

He added, however, that South Africa was not planning to mediate in Haiti, wracked by civil unrest which has left 37 dead and 92 wounded since late September.

Mbeki’s decision to attend the celebrations came under fire at home last week.

Acting Democratic Alliance leader Douglas Gibson said: “The Haitian fiasco cost many millions of rand,” adding that Mbeki’s standing had been diminished by his presence at the celebrations in Haiti, where he was the only head of state among 24 foreign representatives.

“Because of his over-emotional response to Haiti‘s 200th anniversary of getting rid of the French, President Mbeki, alone among African or world leaders, insisted on participating in the celebration,” Gibson said.

South African police earlier told news media that a helicopter came under fire last Thursday, prompting Mbeki to cancel his attendance at celebrations in the northwestern city of Gonaives marking the 200th anniversary of a successful slave rebellion against Napoleonic rule.

But both Khumalo and police spokesman Selby Bokaba on Sunday denied that the helicopter was shot at, with Bokaba saying his initial reports had been wrong because of “difficulties in getting the correct information from Haiti due to communication problems.”