Talks begin on restoring ousted president to Haiti U.N. envoy hails 'very positive' step

June 28, 1993|By Newsday

NEW YORK -- Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his arch-foe, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, met separately yesterday with a U.N. envoy, trying to resolve Haiti's 20-month-old political and economic crisis.

The talks involving the exiled president and the army chief who ousted him opened under tight security on Governors Island, a Coast Guard facility in New York Harbor. Cutters patrolled the waters around the island, barring other craft from a 200-yard zone. The barrier was designed especially to protect General Cedras, object of hatred among many Haitian immigrants, thousands of whom demonstrated outside the United Nations, chanting denunciations of the military leader as a "drug dealer" and "killer."

U.N. envoy Dante Caputo, a former foreign minister from Argentina, is conducting a variation of shuttle diplomacy, with all parties moving among offices and residences on the island. After a half-hour session with Father Aristide and a longer meeting with General Cedras, Mr. Caputo told reporters, "it is very positive that we are all together to start the negotiations."

"I feel it has been positive so far," he said, describing the atmosphere as "basically favorable."

A sure sign of progress would be a face-to-face meeting between Father Aristide and General Cedras.

Father Aristide once considered General Cedras a loyal soldier, but since the coup, Father Aristide has insisted the general was the architect of the military rebellion that unleashed a reign of terror.

Sixty-seven percent of Haiti's voters, largely poor and illiterate, voted for Father Aristide in December 1990. He took office the following February, vowing to overturn the domination of the business elite and corrupt elements in the army. He was ousted in October 1991.

Mr. Caputo is hoping to get General Cedras to agree to a date for Father Aristide's return something passionately opposed by certain politicians and members of the military, some of whom have vowed to kill the exiled president should he ever go home again.

Mr. Caputo also will be trying to get Father Aristide to agree to an amnesty for General Cedras and other high-ranking army officers, who may be linked to killings, corruption and other crimes.

Last week, Father Aristide demanded the "immediate departure" of General Cedras and the army high command but backed down after diplomats told him he was being unrealistic.

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