Originally: Haiti Deadlocked as Opposition Rejects International Peace Plan

Haitideadlocked as opposition rejects international peace plan

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – International mediators failed to break Haiti‘s worsening political crisis as opponents of embattled President Jean Bertrand Aristide refused to back down on demands for his departure.

While we did not get a ‘yes,’ we did not get a ‘no,'” Bahamian Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell told reporters after lengthy talks with Aristide’s opponents.

Aristide, in a separate meeting with the international delegation, accepted the power-sharing plan to end the political violence gripping his country, but the opposition rejected it because it would allow him to remain in office.

“The president agreed to proceed on the basis of the existing plan and the Democratic opposition’s response,” Mitchell said.

Speaking at the presidential palace after a meeting with an international delegation that presented the peace plan separately to both sides, Aristide said, “I accepted the plan, publicly and entirely…In one word, yes.”

The plan would allow Aristide to serve out his term through 2006, but with a new government and a new prime minister acceptable to the opposition.

All factions of the political opposition had earlier rejected the plan because it does not call for Aristide to step down, a condition they insist is necessary to stem the violence that has left at least 57 dead since February 5.

“The opposition maintains its position…The only solution is the departure of Jean Bertrand Aristide,” Micha Gaillard, Socialist Party leader and spokesman for all political opposition factions, said as he left a meeting with the US-led diplomatic team.

Rosemond Pradel, leader of the opposition Conicom Party, said, “We cannot accept this plan without the departure of Aristide. If we accept the plan without his departure, we are going to disappear as an opposition.”

He said the plan was basically sound, and the opposition’s only real objection was that it would allow Aristide to remain in power.

Aristide, who met separately with the international delegation, stressed the disarmament clause in the plan applied to all armed factions, particularly the rebels who have seized several towns and cities in the north.

“We agree to have a new government and a new prime minister,” he said, but added: “We will not work with any terrorists,” his term for the armed rebels.

“We agree to have a commission of three people, giving birth to a commission of seven wise people to help select a prime minister. And then we will have a new government.”

Once a new government is formed, said Aristide, “free and fair elections” would follow, although he did not give a date.

“From today until February 7, 2006 (when his term expires) I will continue to work with my brothers in the opposition,” said Aristide.

Andre Apaid, leader the “Group of 184” representing labor, professional and business groups within the opposition, said Aristide was “the source of the problem.”

The president, he said, “is directly responsible for the violence in Haiti because he has distributed the weapons, created the armed gangs to terrorize the population, to intimidate the political parties and to quash the opposition.”



Although it allows him to remain, the peace plan requires Aristide to cede significant powers — including control of a revamped and internationally trained police force — to a new, independently appointed government and prime minister.

In other developments Saturday, the United States and Mexico urged their citizens to leave Haiti.

And the owner of a Haitian radio station was shot and critically wounded by unidentified gunmen near the northern capital of Cap Haitien.

The international delegation that presented the peace plan, headed by Roger Noriega, Washington‘s top US diplomat for the Americas, reiterated the opposition still had until a Monday deadline to accept the plan.

Sources said the plan also contained a second deadline, March 26, for both sides to show progress in implementation. That date corresponds with a ministerial meeting of the 15-nation Caribbean community, Caricom, in Antigua, which is to assess progress in Haiti.

Canadian envoy Denis Coderre, minister for relations with French-speaking nations, said before Saturday’s meeting, “What we’re looking for is to make sure we are sending a message of firmness, of emergency and of unity of the international community.”

Armed rebels have now extended their reach in Haiti‘s north and center and members of the country’s ill-equipped and poorly trained police force in numerous localities have either fled or gone into hiding, fearing their advance, which has resulted in looting and arson in some places, according to residents.