Christopher predicts U.N. can take over in Haiti by end of March

January 16, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Conditions in Haiti will be stable and secure enough by the end of March to allow the Pentagon to hand over peacekeeping responsibilities there to the United Nations, Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher predicted yesterday.

Although the U.N. forces will be commanded by a U.S. major general and half of the 6,000 troops will be American, the transition will lower Washington's profile in Haiti, a step the Clinton administration hopes will head off criticism from the Republican-controlled Congress.

The U.S.-dominated international force now in Haiti consists of about 8,000 troops, 6,000 of them American. The Pentagon plans to bring most of those troops home, replacing them with a 3,000-member contingent assigned to the United Nations.

Interviewed on the NBC-TV program "Meet the Press," Mr. Christopher said the U.S. military intervention that restored democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power was "a very, very successful operation."

He said the final decision on the timing of the handover will be made by the U.S. military commander on the ground but that, "My anticipation is that it'll be done by the end of March."

Under the terms of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the international organization will assume the responsibility for maintaining order in Haiti once the U.S.-led force establishes "stable and secure" conditions.

Although U.N. officials have criticized Washington for failing to disarm Haitian civilians, the United Nations is expected to agree to the late-March transition date.

With the loss of just one soldier to hostile fire so far, U.S. troops have separated and reorganized Haiti's brutal army and police force into smaller forces operating under international supervision.

Although common crime has increased on the island since Father Aristide's return, there has been a sharp reduction in the rampant human rights violations blamed on the military regime that ruled the country until it was forced to step down.

Joe Sills, a U.N. spokesman, said Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali will file a report with the Security Council this week that will set in motion the procedure for the transition.

The new U.N. force commander, appointed jointly by Mr. Boutros-Ghali and the Pentagon, is Maj. Gen. Joseph Kinzer. Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister of Algeria, will be the civilian head of the operation.

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