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Exiled Aristide vows to return to Haiti

Haitian leader Jean Bertrand Aristide, who is living in exile in South Africa, on Wednesday defended his decision to return home, saying it is his right as a citizen of the Caribbean nation.

”I have the right to be back,” he said in an interview with international news agencies in Pretoria.

Aristide (52), who has been living in South Africa since fleeing a popular revolt in Haiti in 2004, on Tuesday announced that he will return to the restive Caribbean state, which recently elected René Préval as its new leader.

Aristide said no date for his return has been set yet, but added: ”I know a date will emerge.”

He has said he first needs to consult with Préval, his one-time protégé, the United Nations and ”other countries” before choosing a date for his return.

He made it clear, however, that he will not return to politics.

”My determination is to be back in education, serving the people, not as a member of the public service but as a citizen,” said Aristide, a former priest.

The election of Préval and Aristide’s return could put an end to much diplomatic wrangling over Haiti since the 2004 revolt.

Préval, who served as prime minister under Aristide for seven months in 1991, was declared the winner of the February 7 presidential election following international mediation.

Aristide long maintained that he had been forced to step down under pressure from the United States and France and had urged the African Union to take up his claims of a coup.

Since arriving to a red-carpet welcome in May 2004, Aristide, together with his wife and two daughters, has been living in a government-provided home in Pretoria and been provided with security and a car.

Aristide swept to power in Haiti in 1990, only to be overthrown in a coup eight months later. With backing from the US, he returned to power in 1994 but fell out of favour with Washington amid claims of vote-rigging in the 2000 elections and political violence.

Face with an armed insurrection and large street protests, Aristide fled Haiti on February 29 2004 and was granted political refuge in South Africa three months later. — Sapa-AFP

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