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South Africa welcomes Aristide

Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was welcomed Monday to South Africa, his new home in exile.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was welcomed to South Africa on Monday in a style reserved for visiting heads of state, ending a three-month search for what he maintains will be a “temporary home” in exile.

Before leaving Jamaica on Sunday, Aristide insisted he was still the elected president of Haiti and vowed to return.

President Thabo Mbeki embraced Aristide and his wife, Mildred, as they stepped from the South African presidential jetliner that brought them, their two young daughters and their bodyguards to Johannesburg International Airport.

Mbeki then introduced the couple to a long line of waiting Cabinet members, diplomats and representatives of the African Union and U.S. Congressional Black Caucus.

Aristide fled Haiti on Feb. 29 as rebels approached the capital, Port-au-Prince. He later claimed he was pushed out by the United States, a charge Washington denies.

Aristide talks of returning to Haiti
In a brief statement in Zulu to reporters Monday, Aristide thanked South Africa and the African Union for hosting him and his family.

“Instead of Europe, we are welcome in Africa, our mother continent, our temporary home until we are back in Haiti,” he said, switching back to English.

But he added that the situation in Haiti must be normalized and peace must be restored before he would attempt to return.

South Africa says Aristide and his entourage can live in nearby Pretoria, the capital, at government expense until it is safe for them to return to Haiti.

“South Africa has a responsibility, as an African country and as part of the international community, to ensure that democracy and peace prevail in Haiti, and that the people of Haiti are able to choose who their leaders should be,” Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said Monday.

While South Africa insists this is only a temporary arrangement, government officials declined to specify how long Aristide might remain in the country.

The offer to host Aristide has brought criticism from the political opposition here, which has protested the cost to South African tax payers, many of whom are still mired in poverty a decade after apartheid’s end.

Aristide’s “arrival — and the red-carpet treatment afforded to him — illustrates that government is more concerned with the old boys club of presidents and politicians than it is with the people of South Africa,” said Douglas Gibson, an official with the opposition Democratic Alliance.

Anger persists at Aristide ouster
Aristide spent his first weeks in exile in Central African Republic, to which he was flown aboard a U.S.-supplied jet. He flew to Jamaica with his wife on March 15 to reunite with their two young daughters.

His return to the Caribbean angered Haiti’s new U.S.-backed interim government, which worried that his presence would further destabilize Haiti, just 100 miles east of Jamaica.

The 15-member Caribbean Community has refused to recognize Haiti’s new government and has called on the Organization of American States to investigate the circumstances of Aristide’s departure. South Africa has backed calls for an independent probe.

Aristide, a slum priest elected on promises to the poor, began losing support shortly after he won a second term and his Lavalas Family party swept disputed legislative races in 2000. International donors suspended millions of dollars in aid, worsening poverty in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country and angering Aristide’s former supporters.