New Haitian leader Preval to decide on foreign troops Some feel peacekeepers will be needed beyond Feb. 29 pullout date


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Among the legacies President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has bequeathed to his newly elected successor, Rene Preval, is a decision on whether to retain an international security presence in Haiti and, if so, what form it should take.

Mr. Preval is to be inaugurated Feb. 7. Three weeks later, on Feb. 29, the mandate of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti expires and with it the presence of nearly 6,000 foreign soldiers and 900 international police monitors.

Few here believe the Haitian National Police, a new 6,000-member domestic security force whose troops will not be fully on the streets until late February, is ready to go it alone.

But with a 19-year occupation by U.S. Marines earlier this century as part of its history, a foreign military presence is a sensitive issue in Haiti.

"Aristide does not want a foreign security presence," says a foreign military source. "He does not want to go down as being the one who continued the occupation of the country after foreign military brought him back." Observers say Mr. Aristide has ambitions of returning to the presidency in five years.

"Security is a major concern for everybody," said one international diplomat, and it is of particular concern for foreign investors who have adopted a "wait and see" attitude before committing themselves to Haiti.

The corollary to that was expressed by James Dobbins, head of U.S. State Department's Haiti coordinating group, who told a conference in Miami last month, "The sooner the international peacekeeping forces do leave, and international investors have a chance to assess the results, the better. It is important that investors see that Haiti is standing on its own two feet."

Amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear. The U.N. peacekeeping mandate that expires Feb. 29 will not be extended and the 6,000 troops will be withdrawn -- a process that already has begun.

Eric Falt, the U.N. spokesman in Haiti, says about "5,000 out of the 6,000 soldiers will still be present on Feb. 7," when Mr. Preval is inaugurated.

"The last elements scheduled to leave are the Canadian and U.S. contingents. All troops should be gone by the second half of April," Mr. Falt said.

"Any residual U.N. presence in the post-February period would have to be requested by the Haitian authorities. That's the first step," he said. "If the Haitian authorities were to decide that something were needed, nobody knows what it would entail precisely."

The most commonly discussed possibilities include:

* A continued but reduced presence of international police monitors. They would likely be French-speaking Canadians and French, and would operate under bilateral agreements with the Haitian government or under U.N. or Organization of American States auspices.

* Several hundred U.S. military engineers, reservists or active duty, engaging in construction projects such as roads, schools, health clinics and other public works projects, as part of training operations on a rotating basis to "to show the flag and be visible."

* A Rapid Reaction Force, probably under some sort of U.N. auspices. One foreign official suggested it would number "in the range of 100 maybe," with "the capacity to respond to severe civil disturbances or maybe even, sort of, coups. It would have the mobility and firepower and training to respond very quickly to serious threats to security."

He added that it would "almost certainly not be Americans."

In addition, it is expected that a five-year police training and upgrading program administered by the U.S. Department of Justice would continue with emphasis on such specialties as riot control, anti-narcotics and investigative techniques.

Mr. Preval, elected Dec. 17, has indicated that he is willing to deal with the security issue, saying publicly that "we will do it [request that troops remain] if it is in the best interests of the Haitian people." He has told Haitian private sector groups privately that he believes it is.

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