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Aristide: Haitian killers like those of 9/11

Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide

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(CNN) -- While the Caribbean Community warned of that a humanitarian crisis and "sheer anarchy and chaos" are imminent in Haiti, embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vowed to remain in office amid a growing revolt and calls for him to step down.

CNN anchor Judy Woodruff spoke to Aristide by phone from Haiti on Thursday.

WOODRUFF: Mr. President, first of all, what is the situation in your country? The reports we have here in the United States is that much of the country is virtually just out of control, and people are running with virtually no law enforcement throughout the streets. What is your assessment of what's going on?

JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE: Actually, we have terrorists, criminals with weapons burning police stations, killing people in some areas like Gonaives, Cap-Haitien, while here, in Port- au-Prince, people are anxious because they don't know when those terrorists will be coming to Port-au-Prince and kill thousands of people. That's why we are eager to see an international force coming to Haiti, increasing the number of the police who are already in Haiti to disarm those terrorists while the opposition should sign an agreement. And with humanitarian assistance, the situation, of course, will become better.

WOODRUFF: You call them terrorists, but others looking at this situation say these are political opponents of yours. And there are people both in and outside your country, people who have been very friendly to Haiti, who say that you are a large part of the reason that these political opponents have turned against you. How do you answer them?

ARISTIDE: I disagree, because some of these people are members of an organization called FRAP, who killed with the army at the time more than 5,000 people from '91 to '94. They are well known as drug dealers. They are well known as people who were and who are involved in killing people.

So we cannot confuse them to any normal Democratic opposition. That's why we need to work with the real opposition facing those terrorists, criminals, to prevent them to kill more people.

WOODRUFF: President Aristide, are you willing to give up power or to share power if there is some sort of international peacekeeping force in your country?

ARISTIDE: Last Saturday, I welcomed a high level of international delegation, and I said yes to the proposal they give to me, wishing that the opposition here, instead of backing terrorists to kill more people, would sign this agreement. So this agreement includes the possibility to have a new government where we share power and share responsibilities. And I think it's fair, when we can do that with members from the opposition, from the civil society.

WOODRUFF: Would you be willing to give up power altogether if it came to that?

ARISTIDE: No. We had 32 coup d'etats in our history. Although we are the first black independent country of the world celebrating our bicentennial, 200 years of independence, we will strengthen our Democratic experience by moving from one elected president to another elected president. But not from one coup d'etat to another one. We have 32-coup d'etats; it's enough. We need now to respect the constitutional order, and I will leave the palace on February 7, 2006, which is good for our democracy.

WOODRUFF: But Mr. President, you've been in power for, what, 10 years now. How much responsibility do you bear for the situation?

ARISTIDE: I'm sorry to say the truth. I was elected in '91 after seven months. It could happen, and we lost more than 5,000 people.

I was back only last February 7, 2001. That's why on February 7, 2004, we had more than one million people in a peaceful demonstration in Port-au-Prince. And we did it without any violent incident, which means we will continue through a peaceful way to strengthen a Democratic experience, investing in human beings, in health care, education. That's why we care about those people suffering from those terrorists, and we need Red Cross, humanitarian assistance, to not let them .... killers without any real assistance.

WOODRUFF: How many international peacekeepers will it take to restore order in Haiti? And from what countries should they be drawn, do you think?

ARISTIDE: From my point of view, if we have a couple of dozen of international soldiers, police, together right now, it could be enough to send a positive signal to those terrorists.

Once they realize the international community refuses the terrorists to keep killing people, we can prevent them to kill more people. And then we may have a resolution through the United Nations to have more coming to Haiti and prevent the wars.

WOODRUFF: So you're saying it might only take a couple of dozen initially?

ARISTIDE: For the moment. If we have that today, I am convinced it will be sending a very positive signal to those terrorists.

WOODRUFF: But Mr. President, what do you say to those in the United States and other countries who say, "Why should we be part of a force going into a country where there has been complete lawlessness? Why should we put the lives of our soldiers on the line in order to restore order in a country where there is none?"

ARISTIDE: First of all, we already have international police in Haiti through a special mission of the OAS. Secondly, by increasing this number, we protect lives. Thirdly, on September 11, 2001, terrorists did the worst thing in the United States, and the world said no to terrorism.

As today, the world cannot close their eyes, letting terrorists killing people, and killing the fragile democratic process. I think it can be good for the world.

And also, remember that next November, you will have elections in the United States. Yesterday, we had more refugees leaving Haiti because of those terrorists and moving towards Florida. They will not be able to vote next November in your country. We wish they can stay in Haiti to vote when before next November we will organize democratic elections.

WOODRUFF: That sounds almost like a threat that you are stating.

ARISTIDE: No. I am realistic. I'm just telling the truth. Because the more we have those terrorists killing more people, the more we will be seeing refugees.

And we care for their rights. That's why we are eager to see them staying in Haiti instead of leaving Haiti because of those terrorists.

WOODRUFF: Mr. President, again, you keep referring to your -- to these individuals as "terrorists." Others are saying they are political opponents who have risen up because of mistakes that you have made as the president of your country.

ARISTIDE: No. When you say FRAP, you mean the name of that organization who killed more than 5,000 people from 1991 to 1994. So it's not new. And some of them should be in jail.

Some orders, we have their names, and we could even give the names. So we are talking about those people.

We should not confuse them to some dissident Haitians who are members of the opposition, although they prefer to embrace people who are already convicted as killers instead of moving with a democratic process. So I'm not inventing that, I'm just describing the reality.

WOODRUFF: Do you believe, President Aristide, that you are getting the sort of cooperation that you need, or even communication with the Bush administration right now, the United States?

ARISTIDE: Yesterday, I had a very good and constructive communication with Ambassador Foley, who is the U.S. ambassador to Haiti. And from time to time, when it's necessary, we have good meetings and conversation. With other officials from the U.S., we used to talk. And we will continue to talk.

And also, this week, I had many conversations with many members of the U.S. parliament, and also U.S. citizens. So I think now it will be good for the U.S. As for Haiti, as for the world, if ... we move ahead to protect life, to protect democracy, instead of letting terrorists killing more people. And that may happen at any time.

WOODRUFF: Again, it sounds like a threat that you're making. Mr. President, what needs to happen right now for the situation in Haiti to improve, for there to be order restored?

ARISTIDE: Allow me, with all due respect I have for you, it's not a threat. I'm trying to be responsible by telling the truth. Because at any time, those terrorists may come to Port -au-Prince and kill thousands of people. And we don't want that to happen. We have to prevent that.

I think once the international community, especially the U.S., would accept to send a clear signal to those terrorists, we could start by preventing the worst to happen at any time.

Second, if then we have the international force through the United Nations, or CARICOM or the U.S. in Haiti increasing the number of the international police already in Haiti, it will make the huge difference.

Thirdly, we signed an agreement. We wish the opposition would sign that same agreement to have a new government, where sharing power, we will share responsibilities, including members from the private sector, members from the opposition. And together we go ahead to organize elections, to professionalize our police, to have -- get reforms, fighting against corruption, against drugs, building a state of law. I think this is the best.

WOODRUFF: So just to be clear, you started out by saying clear signal from the United States. What exactly is that clear signal that you're looking for?

ARISTIDE: I think on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government sent a very strong and clear signal to those terrorists. Today, we have them here.

We signed an agreement with the U.S. to cooperate in fighting drug dealers. It was on October 17, 1997, which allows the U.S. to cross the Haitian water and help us to prevent the drug dealers to come to Haiti.

Now we can see the boat people, we can also see those drug dealers using our sea to bring drugs to Gonaives, to Cap-Haitien, where are the terrorists and weapons to them. So it's possible for the United States and Haiti, through this agreement, to prevent the thugs and terrorists to bring more drugs and more weapons to the country.

WOODRUFF: But you're not equating the al Qaeda terrorists who struck the United States on September 11, 2001, with the people who are causing disruption in Haiti right now, are you?

ARISTIDE: Well, there is no major difference when you see those terrorists last September 11, 2001, killing people in the states, and when you see terrorists here in Haiti killing people. Because once you kill one human being, it's already too much. That's why we think this is a very important time to send a clear signal to the entire world that we are all united against terrorists.

WOODRUFF: One last question, Mr. President. How much power are you prepared to give up?

ARISTIDE: Well, based on our constitution, I am the president, and the future prime minister will be the head of the government. And neutral independent citizens being the head of the government. Of course, we will work together respecting law and our constitution, showing that as I was ready, I am ready to work with them, wishing they, too, will be ready to work with us. Because there is no democracy with that opposition, and I'm very happy to know opposition will be on board.

WOODRUFF: And Mr. President, just finally, what do you say to the people in your country who have lost family members, lost friends, through this terrible chaos and mayhem of the last weeks?

ARISTIDE: The first lady yesterday had an interview, and she addressed this humanitarian assistance because she cares. And I support what she said. The same way most people suffering, I think, the best way to alleviate the burden is, first of all, to give humanitarian assistance to them, to accompany them to face the reality. Because if there is no justice for those who are suffering, they will suffer more.

And by preventing the killers to kill more people, we may see them suffering more. So I am ready to continue to work with them, to accompany them within a framework of law and humanitarian assistance, to show them that we care.

WOODRUFF: President Aristide, you sound remarkably calm for someone at the center of such a terrible, terrible situation in your country right now.

ARISTIDE: Yes, I am. You know why I am? Because I am sure that what I'm doing, this is the right thing.

Not for my ego, not for my personal interests, but because I am an elected president doing my best within the limits I have to get support from here and from elsewhere in order to protect life, in order to build a step of law after spending 200 years of independence with 32 coup d'etats.

The last coup d'etat we had we lost more than 5,000 people. And today, we see the same people who kill them back in the country to kill more. That's why knowing that what I am doing, this is the right thing, I feel calm moving ahead with the hope that we will prevent the worst to happen.


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