By JOSEPH BENAMSSE, Associated Press Writer
BANGUI, Central African Republic – The African hosts of Jean-Bertrand Aristide have asked the exiled Haitian leader to stop blaming the United States for his ouster as they work to get another country to take him, a top official said Tuesday.
Aristide, who resigned Sunday and came to the Central African Republic on a flight arranged by the U.S. government, said American troops forced him to leave Haiti — a claim adamantly denied by Secretary of State Colin Powell (news – web sites) and other American officials.
His claim — made in interviews with The Associated Press, members of the U.S. Congress and activists — created diplomatic worries for his host country, where he is staying in the official residence of President Francois Bozize.
“The authorities have already called on Aristide to remain calm, to stop making accusations against America,” Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui told AP.
“We fear that this kind of declaration compromises relations between the Central African Republic and the United States,” he said.
After Bozize was delayed at a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the countryside, officials canceled a planned meeting between Aristide and top government ministers, the Foreign Ministry reported.
South Africa has said in principle it’s not opposed to taking in Aristide, but that it hasn’t received a formal request. Like the Central African Republic, it was thought to be troubled by the political and diplomatic problems that could follow Aristide.
“Diplomatic contacts are still going on to find Aristide another country of asylum,” said Wenezoui. He said a permanent home outside the Central African Republic could be determined for Aristide “in the days to come.”
The government of the Central African Republic on Monday denied claims by Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, that he was being held prisoner in the presidential palace.
French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie suggested Tuesday that Aristide was being guarded by French soldiers, but later backtracked. She said French troops had been in the country training African soldiers, but their mission “has nothing to do with the presence of President Aristide.”
The Central African Republic’s Foreign Ministry said it would investigate Aristide’s charges that he was “forced to leave” by the U.S. military.
Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye said he wasn’t in a position to comment on Aristide’s claim.
“The way we look at it, he was moved from Haiti to avoid bloodshed” as rebels seeking his ouster moved toward the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, Mbaye said.
Bozize, who took power in March 2003, has been courting international support and aid to stabilize his country. The U.S. Embassy in Bangui closed on Nov. 2, 2002, as Bozize’s rebellion raged in the country.
On Monday, Aristide called members of Congress, American activists and reporters, saying U.S. troops forced him to leave.
“They came at night. … There were too many. I couldn’t count them,” he said.
Powell said Aristide’s claims were “absurd.”
“He was not kidnapped. We did not force him on to the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly, and that’s the truth,” Powell said in Washington.
Aristide described the American “agents” as “good, warm, nice,” but said that he was deprived of his rights during his 20-hour flight to Africa.
U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who arranged an AP phone interview with Aristide, said Congress should investigate whether the United States, specifically the CIA (news – web sites), had a role in the rebellion that led to Aristide’s exile.