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US increases pressure on Aristide to compromise

The Haitian president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was under increasing pressure to seek a political settlement to the escalating violence in Haiti, after he called for international help to stave off civil war and a humanitarian disaster.

The US secretary of state, Colin Powell, yesterday all but ruled out foreign police or military forces going to Haiti to quell the revolt against Aristide and emphasised the need for a political solution.

”There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing,” he said. ”What we want to do right now is find a political solution and then there are willing nations that would come forward with a police presence to implement the political agreement that the sides come to.”

France, meanwhile, has called together an emergency team to consider whether it could use its regional terroritories in the Caribbean and its links as the former colonial power to send peacekeepers.

”What can France do specifically?” the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin asked on France Inter radio.

”We are in contact with all of our partners in the framework of the United Nations, which has sent a humanitarian mission to Haiti to see what is possible.”

The situation in the country has become increasingly volatile, after senior members of the former military dictatorship crossed the border with the Dominican Republic to aid the rebels.

”We are witnessing the coup d’état machine in motion,” the Haitian prime minister, Yvon Neptune, said on Tuesday. He said Haiti’s 5 000-member police force is ill equipped to respond and that he expects the international community ”to show that it really wants peace and stability in Haiti”.

More than a dozen towns are now in the hands of rebels who have cut off much of the north.

UN officials have brokered an agreement allowing aid supplies to be trucked along ”humanitarian corridors” from the capital, Port-au-Prince, via the most populous rebel-held town, Gonaives, to other conflict-hit towns in the north.

The UN refugee agency on Tuesday urged Haiti’s neighbours to take in refugees fleeing their homeland while the Dominican Republic has called for international intervention.

Aristide refused to discuss strategies for halting the revolt or say whether he was asking for military assistance.

”A group of terrorists are breaking democratic order,” he said adding that his government had to find ”a peaceful way” to quell the uprising.

But efforts at mediation both by Caricom, the Caribbean community, and the OAS have failed to find sufficient common ground for a compromise, leaving the state to descend into gang warfare, with both sides relying on armed youths to enforce control.

The rebels, many of whom are former Aristide supporters, boasted of their new allies from the former dictatorship.

”They have joined us. We have created a national resistance,” said Wynter Etienne whose gang overran Gonaives two weeks ago. ”We’re going to take a major part of Haiti.”

One of Etienne’s new allies is Guy Philippe, the former police chief of Cap-Haitien who fled to the Dominican Republic after being accused of fomenting a coup in 2002.

Etienne said Philippe would attack Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second city, where Aristide supporters have torched the homes of opponents.

”We don’t have any platform,” said Philippe (35) in an interview in Gonaives over the weekend. ”Our fight is for a better country … We are fighting for the presidency, we’re fighting for the people.” – Guardian Unlimited Â

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