By Andrew Quinn
PRETORIA, South Africa (Reuters) – Deposed Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Monday he would not actively work to seek his return from exile, saying democracy would have to return to the troubled Caribbean nation first.
Aristide, holding his first news conference since arriving in temporary exile in South Africa on May 31, repeated charges that the United States and France backed the armed rebellion which drove him from power on February 29.
“The huge majority of Haitian people, three months after the coup, are still fighting in a peaceful way for my return,” Aristide said.
“I am not indifferent. I share their suffering … but we don’t want to be involved in any kind of political activity to be back soon in bad conditions.”
Aristide, joined by his wife Mildred and South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, said he had no plans to contest elections which could take place next year.
“I don’t see how they would try to have free, fair and democratic elections if they don’t change the reality (in Haiti) today,” he said.
He said he planned to use his time to write and would keep the same low profile that he did during an earlier 10-week stay in Jamaica, where he did not engage in overt political activity.
“I could if I wanted … my silence was an eloquent silence,” he said. “We are not eager for power. The most important thing is to contribute, to cooperate.”
Aristide has been given a red carpet welcome in South Africa despite opposition protests that South African taxpayers should not be bankrolling his exile.
Dlamini Zuma said earlier that Aristide and his family were penniless after they left Haiti.
Aristide insists he remains his country’s elected leader and has accused Haiti’s new government of harassing and killing his supporters — saying Monday abuses there were comparable to what was occurring in Iraq (news – web sites).
“People have to be free to talk, not in a violent way but in a peaceful and reasonable way,” Aristide said. “There was a coup d’etat, there is a de facto government, but there is no democracy.”
Aristide repeated his thanks to South Africa and its President Thabo Mbeki, who has come under political fire at home for agreeing to host Aristide at government expense.
Aristide said he was certain the “huge majority” of South Africans stood by their president in offering help.
“I respect the people of this beautiful country … and because I respect the people, I have to understand they are free to express their opinions,” he said.