Former Haitian president Jean-Bertrande Aristide is welcome to continue his exile in South Africa as long as necessary, according to Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question released Wednesday, Dlamini Zuma said that the open invitation was part of the international process to create “peace and stability in Haiti”.

Aristide fled Haiti in February 2004 amid violent unrest. President Rene Preval, who was elected this February, has said he is free to return despite the tenuous security situation which has seen dozens of foreigners and Haitians kidnapped and hundreds forced to flee their homes by gang fighting since May.

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to extend the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti for six months.

“The South African Government continues to accord President Jean-Bertrand Aristide the status of a former head of state and will treat him as a guest of the South African government for as long as is necessary, although neither the South African government nor President Aristide believes he is here on a permanent basis,” Dlamini-Zuma said.

The opposition Democratic Alliance, which asked the question, accused the government of wasting taxpayers’ money to host Aristide and said he should return to his homeland and answer questions about human rights abuses.

“How fortunate Mr Aristide is to have friends such as the ANC government. He, his wife, his children, his staff and his entourage live the kind of luxury afforded to a head of state at the expense of the taxpayer with no end in sight, while the people of Haiti continue to live in poverty as they struggle to rebuild their country,” the opposition party said.

The government has refused to give details about the cost – reported by local media to be up to R200 000 a month.

“The monthly costs of his accommodation, transport, office support staff and security are similar to the cost normally incurred for a South African cabinet minister,” said Dlamini-Zuma in her reply.