South Africa: Pretoria has “no problem” granting Aristide asylum

Staff Reporter
PRETORIA, 2 March 2004

South Africa could be the final destination of ousted Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, but the government has yet to receive a formal request, Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said on Monday.

PRETORIA: “I am not aware of any formal request and, therefore, we have made no formal decision,” the South African news agency SAPA quoted Pahad as saying in Pretoria. “If we can help, we will help,” he added. “In principle, we have no problem.”

Aristide arrived in the Central African Republic (CAR) on Monday and was granted temporary asylum, state radio reported.

“It is a possibility that the former Haitian president might be headed for South Africa,” Johann Erikson, CAR’s honorary consul-general in South Africa told IRIN. He suggested “negotiations” might be underway with the government in Pretoria.

Pahad said any final decision would be made by cabinet after consultations with, among others, the Caribbean regional organisation, Caricom, and Aristide himself.

Aristide resigned on Sunday and flew to the CAR after rebels surrounded the capital, Port-au-Prince, the culmination of several weeks of fighting. Major Western countries, including the United States, had made it increasingly clear that they would not support him.

The South African newspaper Beeld said at the weekend that a South African Air Force plane carrying 150 R-1 assault rifles, 5,000 bullets, 200 smoke grenades and 200 bullet-proof jackets had been expected to leave for Haiti on Tuesday. Defence officials contacted by IRIN on Monday refused to confirm or deny the report. An official in the Ministry of Safety and Security hinted that there had been an intention to send the equipment, but the plan had been discarded.

South African President Thabo Mbeki visited Haiti, the world’s first black republic, earlier this year to mark the country’s 200th year of independence celebrations. South Africa also donated more than US $1 million towards the event.

South African opposition parties have reportedly condemned the idea of Aristide being granted asylum in the country, accusing the government of siding with “dictators”.