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Multinational team will go to Haiti

From Barbara Starr
CNN

A man holding a U.S. flag shouts anti-Aristide slogans Thursday during a rally in Gonaives, Haiti.
A man holding a U.S. flag shouts anti-Aristide slogans Thursday during a rally in Gonaives, Haiti.

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Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is vowing to fight to the end to protect democracy and his regime.
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(Contains graphic images of violence) Rebels led by formerly exiled paramilitaries take over more cities in Haiti.
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Former Haitian paramilitaries return from exile to assist rebels fighting Aristide.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A multinational team will travel to Haiti Saturday to discuss a plan to calm the turbulence there, a senior State Department official announced Thursday as Americans were urged to leave Haiti as soon as possible.

Officials from the United States, France, Canada, Caricom (the Caribbean Community) and the Organization of American States will make up the team, and ambassadors from those nations and groups will present the plan to the Haitian government and opposition.

The team will meet with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's government and with the political opposition to follow up on the details of the plan, the official said.

Meanwhile, the State Department is warning U.S. citizens to leave Haiti "while commercial [air] carriers are still operating on an uninterrupted schedule."

The rebellion first erupted February 5 in Gonaives and the rebels have been most active in the North. Former Aristide supporters have joined with their once sworn enemies -- paramilitary and military leaders who had supported the former military dictatorship -- to oust Aristide. These forces returned from exile in the Dominican Republic just a few days ago and are believed to be heavily armed.

Aristide vowed Thursday to die if necessary to save his country from what he called "terrorists."

His critics say his government is corrupt, and the opposition is calling for new elections.

"Haiti's security environment has been deteriorating as President Aristide has continued to politicize the Haitian National Police and used government resources to pay for violent gangs to attack opposition demonstrators," the State Department warning said.

The travel warning said Peace Corps personnel have already been withdrawn, and the State Department has authorized the departure of family members and non-emergency employees of the embassy on a voluntary basis. Remaining staffers and families are under an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew.

The security situation at the embassy and for the estimated 20,000 Americans in the country will be assessed by a team of about four people from the U.S. Southern Command, which will arrive in Port-Au-Prince in the next few days, Defense Department officials said.

The U.S. military, as always, is prepared to evacuate Americans from the country if necessary, they said.

The senior State Department official said the outline of the plan to send the multinational team to Haiti was worked out in a conference call Thursday morning among representatives from all of the parties.

Caricom -- made up of 15 member states -- previously spelled out what a negotiated settlement between the fighting parties should include.

The Bush administration and others in the international community have previously said they would not intervene in the Haitian crisis until Aristide takes steps to end the violence and enter into a dialogue with the political opposition.

The official said the new outline addresses "what would be possible if there was political order restored to the country," such as providing security assistance and police training to the Haitians.

"Everything is contingent on a political settlement," the official said.

Under the Caricom plan, Haiti would have to comply with OAS resolutions for the country, negotiate new rules for demonstrations and the release of political detainees, and ensure fundamental rights for its citizens.

Rebel groups would also have to be disarmed and both the government and opposition parties would have to support an independent electoral commission.

Jackson calls for U.S. action

U.S. civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson Thursday said that by refusing to intervene in Haiti, the United States is giving tacit support to armed groups there who oppose Aristide.

"It's a contradiction to allow one [democracy] in Iraq but to deny one in our own hemisphere," he said at a news conference.

Jackson accused President Bush of withdrawing support for a "democratically elected government."

Jackson and his Rainbow/Push Coalition has sent a letter to Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell, asking that the United States resume economic and medical assistance, send a high-level official to Haiti and persuade the insurgents to come to the negotiating table.

"We have an international crisis in our hemisphere, here in Haiti ... in part induced by this government that cut off economic assistance," Jackson charged.

"Secretary Powell cannot be idle. ... We must send in forces. ... We must honor Haiti's democracy."

Powell said earlier this week that the United States does not expect to send military troops to stop the violence. He suggested other countries may send security forces, but only after the Haitian government and opposition reach a political agreement.

Aristide's turbulent past

Discontent has grown in Haiti, home to 8 million people, since Aristide's party swept the legislative elections in 2000.

Aristide, a priest who preached revolution to Haiti's poor, swept 1990 elections to become the country's first freely elected leader. He was ousted in a coup in 1991 and was restored to power when the United States sent 20,000 troops to Haiti in 1994.

Nearly 40,000 Haitians fled the country after the 1991 coup. Many of those risked death to attempt the 600-mile passage to Florida in small, overcrowded boats.

Aristide disbanded the army in 1995. In its place, the country has a 5,000-member police force that is outnumbered and outgunned by the rebels in outlying posts.

CNN's Lucia Newman, Barbara Starr and Elise Labott contributed to this report.


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