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Aristide: I will return when the ‘conditions are right’

Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti’s ousted former president, said in an interview published on Thursday that he will return to the Caribbean nation ”once the conditions are right”, but doesn’t plan to go back into government.

In a wide-ranging interview published in the London Review of Books, Aristide said he and his family are staying in South Africa ”as guests, not as exiles”. However, he said the timing of his return will be up to former ally and current President Rene Preval.

”Once the conditions are right we’ll go back. As soon as Rene Preval judges that the time is right, then I’ll go back,” Aristide said in the interview, conducted in July 2006 by Peter Hallward, a philosophy professor at Britain’s Middlesex University.

Aristide, ousted in a bloody uprising three years ago this month, said his return depends on ”judging the security and stability” of the impoverished country.

Preval has said Haiti’s constitution allows Aristide’s return but has refused to say if he will welcome home his one-time mentor.

The two reportedly haven’t spoken in years. Preval’s office gave no immediate comment on Aristide’s remarks.

Asked what he would do in Haiti, Aristide said he would like return to teaching, not government.

”I will serve the people again, from outside the structure of the state,” he said. ”I would like to go back to teaching. As for politics, I never had any interest in becoming a political leader ‘for life’.”

He also ruled out a return as leader of his deeply divided Fanmi Lavalas political party, which still enjoys wide support among Haiti’s poor.

”I will not dominate or lead the organisation, that is not my role — but I will contribute what I can,” Aristide said.

Aristide was flown out of Haiti on a United States-supplied jet as heavily armed rebels neared the capital, Port-au-Prince. The US government has said Aristide agreed to go, but the former president alleges he was kidnapped in a coup — a charge Washington denies.

In the interview, Aristide said the rebels never posed a serious threat to the capital, even though they managed to seize several northern cities.

”There was no great insurrection. There was a small group of soldiers, heavily armed, who were able to overwhelm some police stations [in the north], kill some policemen and create a certain amount of havoc,” Aristide said.

”But the city was a different story. The people were ready, and I wasn’t worried,” he added.

Aristide said the US decided to remove him on February 29 2004 after a shipment of South African arms was sent to aid the Haitian police force, tipping the balance in favour of Aristide’s security forces.

”They [the Americans] knew that in a few more hours, they would lose their opportunity to ‘resolve’ the situation,” he said. ”They grabbed their chance while they had it, and bundled us on to a plane in the middle of the night.”

The US government has denied Aristide’s account, saying that he asked for help and left Haiti voluntarily. — Sapa-AP

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