Haiti opposition rejects peace deal

Haiti's political opposition has formally rejected an international peace plan, as armed rebels seized another city amid warnings of a bloodbath.

    Opposition leaders want Aristide to step down

    The opposition bucked intense pressure to accept the

    power-sharing proposal because the plan does not include the

    automatic removal of embattled President Jean-Betrand Aristide.

    The president had earlier refused to step down and predicted brutal

    killing sprees if his political foes did not relent.

    The rejection is

    to be announced on Wednesday and is expected to be roundly

    condemned, particularly by the United States which had leaned

    heavily on the opposition to accept the proposal.

    Evans Paul, a senior member of the Democratic Platform

    coalition, said the rejection letter had been handed to David Lee,

    the head of a special Organisation of American States (OAS) mission

    in Haiti.

    Under the plan, Aristide would have ceded significant powers to

    a new prime minister and cabinet, but would serve out his term.

    Insurgency

    "We are still talking and working with the parties in Haiti to

    gain acceptance of the (peace)

    plan"

    US State Department official

    And foreign governments would have helped face down the spreading

    insurgency with the dispatch of an "international security

    presence".

    But Secretary of State Colin Powell has not given up on the

    plan.

    "We are still talking and working with the parties in Haiti to

    gain acceptance of the plan," a State Department official said on

    condition of anonymity.

    Powell "supported the French offer to organise a meeting in

    Paris and hopes the parties will take advantage of the opportunity",

    the official said.

    The opposition's final rejection of the proposal is almost

    certain to cause further deterioration in Haiti's already volatile

    countryside as well as the capital, which the rebels have vowed to

    take if Aristide remains in office.

    With their seizure of north-western Port-de-Paix overnight, the

    rebels now control at least half of the country.

    Chaos and looting

    They hold nearly

    all of northern Haiti, including the second-largest city of Cap

    Haitien, which they took on Sunday, sparking chaos and widespread

    looting.

    Rebel leader Guy Philippe reaffirmed on Tuesday he aims to

    "liberate Port-au-Prince", and said the rebel advance had so far

    been "too easy".

    Police and armed pro-Aristide gangs have built barricades on

    roads outside Port-au-Prince in response to the threats and sporadic

    attacks on the capital's outskirts.

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide has been
    accused of stifling democracy

    Some 50 US marines, dispatched

    on Monday, patrolled the US embassy compound.

    Britain on Tuesday joined France, the US, Mexico and

    Canada in urging its nationals to leave the country.

    Foreigners

    hoping to catch flights out made long lines at the Port-au-Prince

    airport.

    In Port-de-Paix looting erupted when rebels moved in and police

    fled, according to local radio reports.

    Several buildings were set

    ablaze in the city, which has a population of about 120,000.

    'Terrorists and killers'

    No casualty figures were available, but Aristide, without

    mentioning the name of the fallen city, indicated numerous

    people had died.

    "Last night the terrorists and killers went to the

    north-west of the country ... killing innocent people," he said.

    Port-de-Paix is the nearest port to the US coast.

    Aristide said

    its collapse could unleash a wave of boat people, many of whom would

    likely die attempting to reach Florida in flimsy vessels.

    Dozens of refugees have already arrived in Jamaica, but Aristide

    urged Haitians not to leave, holding out a promise of legislative

    elections by November if the political opposition agreed to the

    power-sharing deal.

    At least 70 people have been killed in the three-week-old

    insurrection.

    Aristide noted some rebels had led death squads

    during the dictatorship that toppled him in 1991.

    "Now, they are back to kill again," he told reporters at the

    National Palace.

    "Last night the terrorists and killers went to the

    north-west of the country ... killing innocent people"

    Jean-Bertrand Aristide,
    Haiti president

    Foreign intervention 

    He brandished photographs of corpses of some of the

    thousands slain during the military rule.

    The United States invaded

    and returned the former Roman Catholic priest to power in 1994.

    In New York, Human Rights Watch said the insurgents were on a

    collision course with pro-government gangs, which could trigger

    violent reprisals.

    It called for the international community to send

    troops and police quickly to prevent a bloodbath.

    Aristide did not directly call for international intervention but

    said Haiti needed the police and police trainers the peace plan

    called on foreign governments to supply.

    He said the political opposition was in league with the rebels

    and would bear the blame if the country descended into chaos.

    The opposition adamently denied links with the insurgents. However, i

    t

    insisted it would not accept the power-sharing plan unless

    Aristide departs.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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