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France mulls joining Haiti peace force

BUDAPEST, Feb 24 (AFP) – Visiting French President Jacques Chirac said Tuesday that he did not rule out France contributing to a peace force in Haiti to quell civil unrest in the Caribbean country.

 Chirac, on a two-day visit to Hungary, also called for negotiations to end the insurrection that erupted in Haiti in early February and has so far left at least 70 people dead and several hundreds wounded.

“France does not rule out contributing to a civilian peacekeeping force, which would be made up for the most part from nationals from countries from the region,” he told a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy.

He said Paris was looking into a number of ideas which have been put forward to resolve the crisis, notably by Caricom, the 15-nation Caribbean community.

He noted that Caricom had put forward a settlement plan which was accepted by embattled Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whom he said appears to face “mounting criticism”.

“We hope that this plan will be implemented to pave the way for a political dialogue leading to a peaceful and lasting settlement of the crisis. Only a negotiation process offers a way out of the crisis,” Chirac said.

The agreement, to which Aristide agreed on Saturday, calls for him to cede significant powers to a new government and prime minister acceptable to the opposition, but allows him to remain in office until the end of his term in 2006.

Haiti, Chirac added, “has for a long time been governed in a disastrous manner.”

Earlier Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said he was to meet Haitian opposition leaders in Paris to discuss prospects for ending the violence.

“We are in a race against time to stop the violence, which is continually growing,” de Villepin told the state-owned Radio France Internationale radio station.

Monday Haiti’s opposition leaders said they had agreed to wait 24 hours before deciding whether Aristide should resign as part of an international plan to end the crisis.

The delay was requested on Monday by US Secretary of State Colin Powell when he telephoned opposition leaders just as they were poised to dismiss a last-minute compromise submitted just hours before a 5:00 pm (2200 GMT) deadline for their decision.

The brief respite is unlikely to slow Haiti’s descent into anarchy as the opposition made clear it had no intention of dropping demands for Aristide’s departure, and a senior Western diplomat said the United States and its partners would not make the president’s definite ouster part of the power-sharing.


                                                              Subject: France news