PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The Haitian Parliament formally authorized President Jean-Bertrand Aristide yesterday to grant amnesty to the coup plotters who overthrew him, essentially leaving him to decide the details.
"What this bill does . . . is throw the ball back to President Aristide," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Stanley Schrager.
At the same time, U.S. government and military officials said American troops will forcibly remove Haitian military leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and members of his de facto government if they do not leave office by Oct. 15.
"I know that he [General Cedras] understands that as of the 15th he's out of here, and we'll be the ones to push him out if he doesn't leave voluntarily," Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, head of the U.S. forces, told reporters.
"By the 15th of October -- that means midnight on the 14th," he said. General Shelton said he had no indication that General Cedras would leave before the deadline.
Separately, senior Clinton administration officials signaled a readiness to send U.S. troops to remove the military-appointed president, Emile Jonaissant, from the palace here if he doesn't leave voluntarily before Father Aristide's return.
The moves reflected the accelerating pace of the transition here, now moving so fast that Haitian political and business leaders warned U.S. officials yesterday of a power vacuum if General Cedras were to leave office before Father Aristide was ready to assume power.
The U.S. delegation, on a daylong visit to meet Haitian political and business leaders, included Strobe Talbot, deputy secretary of state; Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, President Clinton's deputy national security adviser; and John Deutch, deputy secretary of defense.
"Vacuum, as in power vacuum or authority vacuum . . . there was concern [about it]," said a senior official with the U.S. delegation, asking not to be named. "We are in a strange kind of governmental limbo here."
Part of the limbo is the continuing presence of Mr. Jonaissant in the Presidential Palace, which will be Mr. Aristide's official residence when he resumes power later this month.
Mr. Jonaissant is not recognized as Haiti's head of state by the United States or the United Nations.
Anxious that the transition from military to civilian power be smooth and peaceful, the U.S. officials said it may be necessary to stick to the original Oct. 15 deadline but did not rule out an earlier change.
"In many ways the transition down here is further along than perhaps it is in the minds of the American people," said another senior official with the U.S. delegation. "My sense is that people here want to get on with it. That is not to say they don't recognize there are daunting challenges out there, but they are anxious to move into the next phase."
The officials said they would study the amnesty law, passed by the Senate yesterday and the Chamber of Deputies on Thursday, before deciding whether it was strong enough to force General Cedras and Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby from office.
Under an agreement negotiated by former President Jimmy Carter last month, the generals are required to leave office when an amnesty law is passed or by Oct. 15 at the latest.
The new amnesty law gives Father Aristide the power to define its scope. He is expected to give a broad pardon for political crimes associated with his overthrow on Sept. 30, 1991, but not to include crimes of brutality, such as murder and rape, associated with the terror campaign run by the army and police in the past three years.
"What we voted for is almost the same thing that Aristide proposed to us," said Franz Robert Monde, an anti-Aristide independent member of the Chamber of Deputies. "You can't be more royalist than the king. We are testing his good faith.
"He has to pardon, he has to grant amnesty, and he has to enter a discussion of national reconciliation."
Mr. Monde, who is the chamber's president, said he hoped Father Aristide would announce the terms of the amnesty before his return here, adding: "It will calm the passion and the tension."
A senior administration official said the United States would not press Father Aristide on either the timing or content of the amnesty.
"It is President Aristide's decision," the official said. "We don't think it is appropriate to push or pressure President Aristide. He understands the politics of this country much better than we do."
The new law does not require the generals to go into exile, and Haiti's constitution outlaws forced exile. But the U.S. officials yesterday repeated the administration's view that the dictators have no role to play here in future and should leave the country as well as office.
Asked whether the Clinton administration was confident that Father Aristide would try to prevent retaliation by his supporters against his opponents, the official replied: "Yes."