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US asks for SA support over Aristide return date

Washington put a difficult ball in Pretoria’s court on Monday, when it urged the SA government to advise former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide not to return before the country’s run-off elections on March 20th.

“Under the Haitian Constitution, he [Aristide], has the right to return to his country,’ said State Department spokesperson Mark Toner.

“However, former president Aristide has chosen to remain outside of Haiti for seven years. To return this week could only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections. We would urge former president Aristide to delay his return until after the electoral process has concluded to permit the Haitian people to cast their ballots in a peaceful atmosphere. A return prior to the election may potentially be destabilising to the political process,” he said adding that, “the government of South Africa has generously hosted former president Aristide and his family since he voluntarily departed Haiti in 2004. We encourage the South African government as a committed partner to Haiti’s stability to urge former president Aristide to delay his return until after the elections.”

Clayson Monyela, spokesperson for South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), said the South African government would be doing no such thing.

“The Haitian government has issued Aristide with a passport, and South Africa can’t keep him here against his will. If the Americans aren’t happy with him going back before the 20th of March they must engage the Haitians, not the South Africans,” he said.

As reported by the Mail & Guardian, the South African government has come under fire in recent weeks for making a behind-the-scenes deal with the US government that would have seen Aristide remain in SA until after the March 20 elections, an agreement that was confirmed by a source close to the matter.

“We invited Aristide to meet with us more than once but we were told that he has not been allowed to talk politics here in South Africa,” said S’bu Zikode, president of civil rights group Abahlali baseMjondolo.

“The Haitian government has given Jean-Bertrand Aristide a visa to return home. It is being said that it is the government of our own country that is now denying him the right to return home. If this is true that would make the government of South Africa the ally of the elites in Haiti, in America and in Europe that are denying the Haitian people the right to democracy,’ he said.

A Dirco official said an announcement regarding the day on which Aristide would return home was “imminent”.

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