Criticised for doing little to prevent spreading chaos in the nation, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said his emphasis was on promoting a negotiated settlement through Caribbean mediators.

The statement came despite spiraling violence and a surge in exiles returning to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Last week, Powell warned the opposition against trying to unseat Aristide and said he was talking to other countries in the region about possibly sending police to Haiti.

And on Tuesday, he made clear his preference was for police to be sent once the violence had abated.

Humanitarian crisis

"There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing," Powell told reporters.

"There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing. 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."

Colin Powell,
US secretary of state

"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."

Powell also said the United States, which a decade ago invaded Haiti to restore Aristide to power after a coup, was sending officials to Haiti to see how to address the "humanitarian crisis".

The United Nations has appealed to both sides to allow food and medicine deliveries to avert a humanitarian disaster.

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said in Paris France was ready to offer humanitarian aid to Haiti. But there was no commitment about whether it was prepared to send a peacekeeping force to its former colony.

Violence

Up to 50 people have been killed in the rebellion against Aristide, which capped months of anti-government demonstrations and three years of political tensions, dating from contested parliamentary elections in 2000.

Weeks ago, the CARICOM bloc of Caribbean nations hammered out an accord with Aristide that included his pledge to disarm gangs aligned with political parties.

But the president has done little to follow through on the agreement despite the violence.

Aristide, who is mid-way through a second term that began in 2001, has said he intends to stay the course to 2006.

Critics accuse him of buying loyalty in the sprawling slums of the capital, Port-au-Prince, through patronage and franchising drug-trafficking rights.

Corruption

On the other hand, the government describes opponents as a small mulatto elite opposed to the country being run by its poor, black majority.

Aristide was Haiti's first elected
leader 

Powell said the United States was working to have the government and opposition open a dialogue to defuse tensions, but he noted there could be no negotiations with the armed gangs who were battling police in Haiti.

"The opposition forces have taken on new dimensions. Some reflect political opposition leaders, but we also have thugs who can't reasonably be called opposition. And we also have some individuals coming back into the country ... they are murderers, thugs and we can't expect anyone to deal with these kinds of individuals."

Considered a champion of democracy when he became Haiti's first elected leader in 1990, Aristide has seen his once overwhelming popularity fade amid accusations of corruption, political violence and civil rights abuses.

The revolt spread this month to several towns, where police stations were attacked and ports and warehouses were looted, but reached an uneasy stalemate as armed government supporters joined police in hunting down rebels and torching the homes and businesses of opponents.