France grabs world diplomatic lead in Haiti
PARIS, Feb 26 (AFP) - Exploiting Washington's hands-off policy to the Haitian crisis France has taken the diplomatic lead, urging the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and planning talks in Paris on Friday with government and opposition representatives.
After issuing a peace plan on Wednesday including an overt call for Aristide’s departure, Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin held telephone talks with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday and discussed the deployment of a UN-sanctioned police force to stop the Caribbean country’s descent into bloodshed, officials said.
On Friday morning he was to hold negotiations at the foreign ministry with a Haitian government delegation led by Foreign Minister Joseph Philippe Antonio and Jean-Claude Desgranges, head of Aristide’s cabinet.
A delegation from the Haitian opposition coalition, the Democratic Platform, was also hoping to fly to Paris but was having difficulties finding an aircraft to take them.
However the French initiative, aimed at forestalling a bloodbath in the capital Port-au-Prince, risked being overtaken by events as rebels who have seized over half the country continued their advance and militias loyal to Aristide set up barricades in the city.
In the United States the Washington Post newspaper accused the administration of President George W. Bush of abandoning its historic responsibilities in the Caribbean and allowing France to move into the diplomatic vacuum.
“The fecklessness of the administration’s behaviour is in keeping with a foreign policy that has disengaged the United States from large parts of the world over the past three years – most notably Latin America.
“But it is particularly shocking with respect to Haiti, a perpetually tortured country that has been stabilised repeatedly by US military interventions, most recently in 1994,” the paper said.
On Wednesday France accelerated the diplomatic momentum over its former colony when de Villepin issued the call for Aristide’s resignation and for a five-point plan, including a government of national unity and the quick deployment of an international force.
France, which sees the French- and Creole-speaking country as part of its sphere of influence, has said it will contribute. The defence ministry in Paris said the aim of the force would be maintaining civic order rather than peacekeeping, so police or gendarmes rather than soldiers would be sent.
“As for President Aristide, he bears a heavy responsibility for the present situation,” de Villepin said in his statement.
“He must draw the consequences within respect for the law. It is his decision, his responsibility. Everyone can see that it is time to open a new page in Haitian history,” he said.
The minister added that while it was important to “take into account respect for democratic and constitutional principles and not to allow force to have the last word”, the reality also had to be faced that this was a “regime in an impasse, which has already moved outside constitutional legality”.
The French government wants to engage quickly with the legitimate opposition in Haiti in the process towards a new government and thus minimise the influence of the armed rebels, many of whom are seen as having unacceptable links to far-right militias, analysts said
However, the rapidly-moving events on the ground risked rendering all diplomatic endeavours irrelevant.
Subject: France news