updated 3/26/2004 7:19:43 PM ET 2004-03-27T00:19:43

The 15-nation Caribbean Community has decided against recognizing Haiti’s new U.S.-backed government, senior Caribbean officials said Friday.

Regional leaders reached a consensus decision on the issue during the second and final day of a summit, several senior officials said on condition of anonymity.

The move came a day after the leaders demanded that the U.N. General Assembly investigate ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s claims that he was abducted at gunpoint by U.S. agents when he left as rebels threatened to attack Haiti’s capital.

The regional trading bloc decided against opening formal relations with the new government over concerns about the manner in which Aristide left Haiti for exile.

Talks continued Friday, but officials said their minds were made up. They said they would discuss the issue again at their regular annual summit in July in Grenada.

The officials said that for the time being, the Caribbean Community planned to work through the United Nations and other agencies in dealing with Haiti. They said leaders had been under enormous pressure from the United States to recognize the new government.

A cargo ship bearing nearly 2,000 tons of rice, beans and oil docked at the northern port of Cap-Haitien, holding out relief for thousands of Haitians desperate for food in the aftermath of a rebel uprising.

Aid workers estimate that nearly 270,000 people need food aid in the north, and some babies already are dying.

As for Aristide’s eventual destination, Jamaican officials said he would take permanent asylum in South Africa but not until it held general elections next month. Aristide has been in temporary exile in Jamaica since March 15, despite protests from U.S. and Haitian officials.

‘Upset and uncomfortable’
Caribbean leaders made it clear that they were “still upset and uncomfortable” about Aristide’s departure as U.N. special envoy Reginald Dumas listened to their debate, St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Denzil Douglas told The Associated Press on Thursday.

“We are prepared to discuss the possibility of identifying exactly what were the circumstances,” Douglas said. “We are taking this matter to the U.N. General Assembly for clarification.”

Conference officials said the 15-nation regional bloc wanted the General Assembly to investigate rather than the Security Council, where the United States or France could veto the proposal.

The Caribbean can expect support from the 53-member African Union, which last month echoed its demand.

The officials say Aristide has told Caribbean leaders that he was abducted at gunpoint by U.S. agents and put on a U.S.-chartered aircraft that carried him to the Central African Republic.

U.S. officials say they organized the Feb. 29 departure at Aristide’s request and probably saved his life as rebels who had overrun half the country threatened to attack Port-au-Prince, the capital.

Caribbean leaders are angry that the Security Council refused their urgent plea to send international troops to save Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected leader, but speedily sanctioned a U.S.-led intervention after he fled.

The Caribbean bloc refused to join the peacekeeping force, but Thursday it considered sending troops with a separate U.N. humanitarian force to help rebuild Haiti, Douglas said. It would deploy within three months.

Douglas also said Caribbean leaders remain angry with interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who was not invited to the summit after he criticized the group for allowing Aristide to return to the region from Africa.

Former officials barred from leaving
Latortue’s justice minister, Bernard Gousse, said Friday that Haiti would block dozens of ex-members of Aristide’s government from leaving the country, including former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and former Police Chief Jocelyne Pierre.

Gousse requested the move “as an insurance policy” to ensure that the officials would be available for investigations into embezzlement and other crimes committed by “the previous regime,” he told The Associated Press.

“This does not mean that they are guilty. It will be for the justice system to decide,” Gousse said.

Among the 37 names of the list is the former head of the Central Bank, Venel Joseph, and the former chairman of the state-run telephone company, Alphonse Inevil, Gousse said.

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

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