PRESIDENT ARISTIDE SPEAKS AT LAST FORMAL PRESS CONFERENCE BEFORE STEPPING DOWN IN HAITI
Andrew Winning  /  Reuters file
Jean-Bertrand Aristide speaks at his last formal news conference in Haiti on Feb. 24.
updated 3/2/2004 3:57:02 PM ET 2004-03-02T20:57:02

Claims by ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide that U.S. officials forced him from power have upset his hosts in the Central African Republic, who will press the exiled president about his plans to move on into permanent exile.

Aristide, who resigned Sunday and arrived in the African country on a flight arranged by the U.S. government, said he was forced to leave by the American military — a claim dismissed by Secretary of State Colin Powell and others in the Bush administration.

His claims, made in an interview with The Associated Press and in phone calls to U.S. Congressmen and activists, created diplomatic worries for his new host country, where he is staying in the official residence of President Francois Bozize.

“The authorities have already called on Aristide to remain calm, to stop making accusations against America,” Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui told the AP. “We fear that this kind of declaration compromises relations between the Central African Republic and the United States.”

He said, however, that the Central African Republic would investigate Aristide’s charges. He didn't elaborate.

Destination, South Africa?
Aristide and the president’s ministers were expected to discuss plans for the ousted Haitian leader’s final asylum plans in an as-yet-unknown third country later Tuesday, Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye said.

“Bozize will come and deal with this problem of settlement today and in the days to come,” Mbaye said.

South Africa has said it is not opposed in principle to accepting Aristide, but it has not received a formal request. Like the Central African Republic, it was believed to be troubled by the political and diplomatic problems that could arise from offering asylum.

The government of the Central African Republic on Monday denied claims by Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president, that he was being held prisoner in the presidential palace.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie suggested Tuesday that Aristide was being guarded by French soldiers, but later backtracked. She said French troops had been in the country for several months training African soldiers, but their mission “has nothing to do with the presence of President Aristide.”

Bozize, who ousted an unpopular elected leader to take power in March 2002, has been courting international support and aid to stabilize his coup-prone country.

Earlier, Aristide called members of the U.S. Congress, American activists and reporters alleging U.S. troops forced him to leave his residence.

“They came at night. ... There were too many. I couldn’t count them,” Aristide said.

Powell: Claims 'absurd'
Powell said Aristide’s claims were “absurd.”

“He was not kidnapped. We did not force him on to the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly, and that’s the truth,” he said in Washington.

Aristide described the American “agents” as “good, warm, nice,” but said he had no rights during his 20-hour flight to Africa.

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, who arranged the AP phone interview with Aristide, said Congress should investigate whether the United States, specifically the CIA, had a role in the two-week rebellion that led to Aristide’s exile.

Bush telephoned French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday to praise “the excellent French-American cooperation in Haiti” and to “thank France for its action,” said Chirac’s spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna said.

Chirac told Bush he was “delighted by the quality of the cooperation” between the two countries in handling the Haiti crisis and the relatively smooth departure of Aristide. But there was no comment from the French presidential palace on whether that cooperation may or may not have extended to forcing Aristide to leave.

Another turbulent country
Under pressure from foreign nations, rebels and political opponents, Aristide resigned Sunday and flew into exile after a two-week rebellion that has wrecked the Caribbean nation.

Several countries, including Panama and Costa Rica, said they would offer exile to Aristide. It was not clear why Central African Republic was the choice for at least a first stop in exile.

Central African Republic, a former French colony, stands today as one of Africa's most turbulent countries, weathering nine coups and coup attempts since it won independence in 1960.

Although rich in gold, diamond and other resources, the nation of 3.7 million people is habitually unable to make its civil servants payroll, helping spark incessant strikes, unrest and coup attempts.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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