France insists Aristide is'protected not imprisoned'

2nd March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 2 (AFP) - Former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, who has arrived in exile in Africa, is "being protected and not imprisoned", French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Tuesday.

PARIS, March 2 (AFP) - Former Haitian president Jean Bertrand Aristide, who has arrived in exile in Africa, is "being protected and not imprisoned", French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Tuesday.

"If he wants to leave he can leave," she said in a French radio interview.

Aristide, interviewed by CNN television by telephone from the Central African Republic, where he flew into exile on Sunday, said he resigned under pressure and that his decision to step down was made only because he was told it was the only way to avoid bloodshed.

"I call it again and again a coup d'etat," Aristide said. "I called it a coup d'etat because it is a modern kidnapping."

Washington strongly rejects the allegations and a US diplomat said he had escorted Aristide voluntarily to the Haitian capital's airport prior to his departure.

Alliot-Marie said France was not controling Aristide whereabouts in the African country where France has military officers.

"We are making sure that his temporary stay passes under normal conditions," she added.

Alliot-Marie said the situation in Haiti was back to calm but remained "extremely volatile".

France has decided to reinforce its military contingent in Haiti by sending 140 foreign legionnaires from French Guiana, bringing the projected total force to around 350.

Alliot-Marie said French forces there had three tasks: provide security for French and other European nationals as well as the airport and help bring life in the Caribbean nation back to normal.

French troops in Haiti may "act to protect people and notably our citizens", she said.

"It is often up to the French soldiers to try and make people talk. They have a big diplomatic role to play by calling officials on either side to reason, persuading them that troops under their control do not commit acts of violence or fight."

Alliot-Marie said that military reinforcements from southwest France and French Guiana would arrive in Haiti Wednesday.

© AFP

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