Originally: France says it is ready to consider sending a peacekeeping force to its former colony Haiti, where civil unrest has left more than 50 people dead.


Another town – Hinche – came under rebel attack on Monday and President Aristide appealed for foreign help.

Haiti’s neighbours have been urged to take in those fleeing the unrest.

The rebels are now reported to have cut off the north and taken control of most roads leading into the main food-producing region, the Artibonite.

Mr Aristide – a former priest who was restored to power with foreign help in 1994 – is under pressure to quit from opposition politicians and armed rebel groups, who accuse him of having rigged the 2000 elections.
Anti-government protests, which had been frequent since the elections, escalated in late 2003 and turned increasingly violent.

Mr Aristide – who has restated his determination to serve out his term – has declined to give any details about plans to deal with the rebellion, except that he intends to use peaceful means.

‘Open violence’

The French Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, told French radio: “We have the capacity to intervene … many friendly countries are ready to do so”.

“A way must be found to do so in liaison with all the different parties in Haiti, of course, so that a process of dialogue can resume.

“The question is how to deploy a peacekeeping force in a situation of open violence,” he told France Inter.

Violence has escalated since armed opponents overran the northern city of Gonaives in early February and repulsed government attempts to dislodge them.

Unrest involving various armed groups has gripped a string of towns in the north, and on Monday the central town of Hinche was targeted by armed men who attacked a police station and killed three people – one of them the police chief.

The rebels are now reported to control the town and two major roads leading into the north of the country.

Reports from the town said local police had been forced out and were regrouping to the south.

‘Terrorists and democracy’

“A group of terrorists are breaking democratic order,” Mr Aristide told reporters on Monday.

“I have already asked and I will continue to ask the international community and prime ministers of the region to move faster on this issue.”

In an interview with the New York Times published on Tuesday, he said he would leave office in 2006.

Neighbouring Dominican Republic has warned it could not cope on its own if there were a mass exodus of Haitians, and it closed its 360km (224 mile) border with Haiti on Monday.

The UN refugee agency said it was meeting US officials and representatives of Caribbean countries to discuss ways of coping with refugees.

“We would certainly hope that these governments would receive fleeing asylum-seekers,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond.

Other UN officials have expressed “extreme” concern about the humanitarian situation in Haiti.

Story from BBC NEWS: