By Manoah Esipisu
PRETORIA, June 2 (Reuters) – Deposed Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide will stay in South Africa as a government guest because he left his homeland with nothing, Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said on Wednesday.
Aristide arrived in South Africa in exile on Monday and was given a red carpet welcome amid opposition protests that South African taxpayers should not be bankrolling his exile.
“He is here not as a refugee, he is here as a free person. He is not a prisoner, he is not under house arrest, he is a free person and will remain so,” Dlamini Zuma told a news conference in the capital Pretoria.
“The way he left (Haiti), he left without anything and…if you understand that then you understand that he is our guest.” She said Aristide was not expected to lead an armed rebellion from South African exile.
“I am sure that he is not going to be organizing an armed struggle from here but he can talk to anyone, he is a free man,” she said, adding that the South African government expected Aristide to return home when the situation there normalized.
Aristide insists he remains his country’s elected leader and has accused Haiti’s new government with harassing and killing his supporters.
Faced with an armed revolt, Aristide left Haiti on February 29.
“A leader who cares for his people could not allow a bloodbath, so he left,” Dlamini Zuma said.
The United States initially arranged for Aristide to be flown to the Central African Republic. He then traveled to Jamaica to see his children. South Africa approved his asylum request two weeks ago.
The asylum offer underlined South Africa’s view that Aristide was unconstitutionally removed from power in a “regime change” sanctioned by U.S. President George W. Bush — although officials stressed they had agreed to host Aristide only after consulting Washington.
President Thabo Mbeki has been a strong international supporter of Aristide and was the only foreign president to attend Haiti’s official celebration of its bicentennial earlier this year — a trip, which earned him brickbats from political opponents and the media at home.