Originally: Haitian Government To Seek Aristide’s Estradition

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)–Haiti’s U.S.-backed interim government plans to ask for the extradition of ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide on charges of corruption and rights abuses that are under investigation, the new justice minister told The Associated Press.

The plan could further complicate Aristide’s efforts to find a permanent home in exile.

In coming weeks, Haitian authorities will appoint an independent body to investigate allegations of embezzlement and assassinations under Aristide, Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said in an interview Thursday.

“We are setting up a team to assemble all the violations … for which he is responsible, and then we’ll formally ask for his extradition,” he said, refusing to give a time frame.

“The most urgent thing that the population is awaiting is the fight against impunity because there have been too many abuses,” he said.

Gousse was more cautious about ensuring justice for two convicted assassins among rebel leaders whose uprising led to Aristide’s flight. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has been criticized for praising them as “freedom fighters.”

If any action is taken, he said, “We must do it in a way that will not promote disorder.”

He said Louis-Jodel Chamblain, the co-leader of an army death squad convicted in his absence and sentenced to two life terms in jail for the assassinations of Aristide’s justice minister and his chief financier, would have to be retried in person to comply with Haitian law.

And he said the government could pardon Jean Tatoune, another rebel leader who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in a massacre of Aristide supporters. Tatoune was broken out of jail last year by a street gang that began the rebellion.

“He could be pardoned,” Gousse said. “We have to take into consideration that he helped get rid of two dictators in Haiti -(Jean-Claude) Duvalier and Aristide.”

Human rights groups have been outraged by the two hobnobbing with government officials and strutting around Haiti armed, being hailed as saviors and pressing for the reconstitution of the disgraced Haitian army notorious for brutalizing civilians to keep a small elite in power.

In the meantime, Gousse said the government was looking to recruit 500 police officers and would consider rebels, including ex-soldiers, who would be screened for past abuses. He expected fewer than 200 to qualify.

Gousse said he did not think Aristide’s whereabouts presented “an impediment” to extradition, though it was unclear whether Haiti had treaties with Jamaica or South Africa.

Aristide fled Feb. 29, as rebels were reaching the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. He charges he was kidnapped at gunpoint by U.S. agents and put on a plane to Central African Republic. Caribbean leaders returned him to temporary asylum in Jamaica, where officials have said he will move to permanent asylum in South Africa after that country’s general elections in two weeks.

The United States vehemently denies Aristide’s claims, saying it acted at his request and probably saved his life.

Aristide’s search for asylum has been complicated by countries unwillingness to deal with the diplomatic fallout from his charges against the United States.

Jamaica’s government gave him shelter on condition he made no political statements, so it was impossible to reach him for comment.

On Wednesday, Aristide’s lawyer Gilbert Collard filed a complaint in court in Paris charging France with colluding with the United States through “abduction, illegal detention and threats” that forced him to flee.

Latortue’s government estimates as much as $1 billion in state funds was pilfered under Aristide, and has ordered a formal audit by an international firm.

Authorities also are investigating what role Aristide officials played in the killings of at least ten people in the western port of St. Marc during the height of the popular rebellion that erupted Feb. 5, Gousse said.

Pro-Aristide militants allegedly forced victims -including women and children -into homes before setting them ablaze, according to American missionary Terry Snow. Officials under Aristide denied the claims.

More than three hundred people were killed in the three-week rebellion, including scores of police officers accused of attacking Aristide opponents, along with street gangs allegedly armed by Aristide’s party.

Aristide became Haiti’s first freely elected leader in two hundred years of independence in 1990. He lost support as he turned to violence to subdue opposition, but his party remains the most popular political movement, especially among the majority impoverished people among the population of 8.3 million.