From Jeff Koinange
BANGUI, Central African Republic (CNN) —Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide remained for a fourth day Friday in a gilded cage in this dilapidated capital city, unable to communicate with the outside world, his spokesman said in a telephone interview from Paris.
Aristide, 50, and his American wife, Mildred Trouillot, have been billeted in an apartment on the grounds of the president’s mansion since Monday, when they arrived here from Port-au-Prince accompanied by Aristide’s brother and two bodyguards.
The villa is part of the presidential mansion, which is located in the middle of the capital on a five-acre spread overlooking the Ubangui River, within sight of neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
The grounds surrounding his villa are immaculately groomed, and the area is heavily fortified, surrounded by a wall and military — including French gendarmes.
Vehicles entering the compound are checked for explosives, and no members of the media are allowed entrance.
Aristide has access to satellite television, but his telephone privileges were revoked after he told CNN Tuesday that he had been forced to leave Haiti — a victim of a U.S.-led coup — and he is not allowed to leave his villa, his spokesman told CNN.
U.S. officials have dismissed the claim as nonsense, and said Aristide left of his own volition after it was made clear to him that U.S. authorities could not guarantee the security of his family or his countrymen in the face of advancing rebel forces.
“We cannot afford for him to embarrass us, because he has allegedly said he is a prisoner, and accused Washington of orchestrating his premature departure,” Central African Republic Minister of Information Parfait M’Bay told CNN regarding Aristide’s loss of telephone privileges.
“We made Mr. Aristide understand that in no case could he use the territory of Central Africa, the hospitality of Central Africa, to create problems for his country by calling on the people to revolt, for example, or by making regrettable statements.”
M’Bay said Aristide would be granted asylum in Central African Republic, but only if he asks for it.
Aristide’s host and the leader of the government is Gen. Francois Bozize, a 55-year-old career military officer who seized power last March in a coup against the elected president, Ange Felix Patasse.
Patasse was exiled to Togo.
That change of power is just the latest of a number of military coups and dictatorships that have wracked the former French colony since it gained independence in 1964. The impoverished, Arizona-size country has a population of 3 million, about 600,000 of whom live in the capital.
The generally muted political opposition here expressed dismay at Aristide’s presence.
“We don’t want any other people’s problems here in our country,” said Timothee Malendoma, a former general who served as prime minister during the 1970s and 1980s, when the francophone country was a popular destination for Haitians fleeing the tyrannical regimes of Francois (“Papa Doc”) Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”) Duvalier.
“We have had our fair share and don’t need any more now, and not here,” Malendoma said. “Let him go somewhere else, where he’ll be welcome. The Central African Republic is not a dumping ground.”
But most of those questioned in the capital, where illiteracy runs high, had no strong feelings on Aristide’s presence. Many said they did not know who he is.
In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell talked Friday with the South African foreign minister about developments in Haiti “and how things unfolded over the weekend, and both of them expressed support for a democratic and peaceful resolution to Haiti’s political problems,” deputy spokesman J. Adam Ereli told reporters.
The discussion did not include where Aristide may wind up, Ereli said.
“For us, it’s not something we’re actually involved in,” he said.
But CNN’s Charlayne Hunter-Gault said that U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Cameron Hume called South African President Thabo Mbeki to tell him that Aristide’s preference was to go there.
Hume would not say what Mbeki’s response was.
Also, the South African defense minister told CNN that last week it sent a plane laden with arms and equipment intended for the Haitian police, but that the plane arrived too late to aid against the rebels.
South Africa has called for a U.N. investigation into the circumstances surrounding Aristide’s departure from Haiti, saying him being forced to leave would be a serious breach of international law.