Originally: Aristide was sad and passive, not combative about ouster

Aristide was sad and passive, not combative about ouster, U.S. Ambassador James Foley said in an interview

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti_Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared resigned but philosophical about his imminent ouster, and surprisingly without fight, U.S. Ambassador James Foley said in an interview in which he reflected on the Haitian leader痴 last hours in office.

Foley also told The Associated Press Monday that Haiti will remain a security risk for the United States as long as it cannot sustain itself.

While the United States has no plans for additional monetary aid this fiscal year, Foley said he thought it would provide long-term support for the country that poses a drug and illegal migration threat to the United States.

Foley said he had sad conversations with Aristide through the night before Haiti痴 leader fled hastily Feb. 29.

Aristide later charged that Haiti痴 only democratically elected leader in 200 years was forced from power by a U.S. “coup d弾tat” against his Caribbean country.

“We talked all night, at least four times …” Foley said, in his most detailed public comments on the ousted leader痴 frame of mind at the time. “It was a very poignant series of conversations. I saluted him for putting the interests of the country first. It was a friendly conversation. I told him how very sad I thought it was that this is happening … It was a very sad series of conversations.”

He said Aristide “never challenged our position” that there would be a bloodbath if he did not leave as rebels who had overrun half the country in three weeks closed in on Port-au-Prince, the capital. Some 300 people died in the uprising.

“What was surprising was his passivity and philosophical resignation.”

Foley said Aristide appeared more concerned about his security, and that his imminent departure be kept secret.

“My own feeling was that Aristide had already decided to leave,” Foley said. “He didn稚 need convincing…”

Aristide has charged that the United States stripped him of his security, saying the embassy told his U.S. security agents that they had to leave the country and refused to allow the California company that provided bodyguards, under a contract approved by the U.S. State Department, to send additional agents.

U.S. officials have said only that they told Aristide the United States would not protect him if rebels attacked. Later, U.S. officials said they could not uphold a leader they accuse of ordering attacks on political opponents and condoning drug-trafficking.

The United States has offered no evidence for that last charge and Foley said he did not discuss that issue with Aristide.

Within hours of Aristide痴 departure, U.S. Marines arrived to spearhead a multinational force that now includes 3,600 peacekeepers, including French and Canadians, to stabilize the country.

Caribbean leaders refused to contribute to the U.S.-led force, protesting that no one responded to their urgent plea for international troops to deploy earlier to support Aristide. They have demanded a United Nations inquiry into the circumstances of Aristide痴 departure, saying his charges bode ill for any democratically elected leader who might fall foul of Washington.

Some Caribbean countries are, however, considering sending troops to Haiti once the U.S.-led force is replaced by Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeepers in early June.

Foley indicated the end of the U.S.-led mission would not end Washington痴 engagement.

“Haiti is at our doorstep,” he said. “Clearly, Haiti痴 ills can affect the United States in negative ways. A country that is unable to sustain itself so close to the United States is a national security issue, as well as a humanitarian concern.”

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, is a major drug transshipment point for Colombian cocaine to the United States and a source of illegal migration.

The United States deployed 20,000 troops here in 1994 to put an end to a brutal military dictatorship, halt a flood of tens of thousands of boat people to Florida and to restore Aristide.

Foley described Aristide痴 legacy as “horrendous,” saying it poses major challenges for a U.S.-backed interim government that has promised elections next year.

Key problems include armed pro-Aristide gangs and rebels who refuse to disarm until Haiti痴 disbanded army is restored.

“Clearly they are going to need assistance to stand up to armed elements on the Aristide side and also on the rebel side,” Foley said.