Coup Backers May Have 'Hatched' U.S. Haiti Plan : Caribbean: The policy, since discarded, cut Aristide's authority, left military intact. U.S. envoy denies link to plotters.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A controversial plan once pushed by the United States to settle the Haitian crisis by forcing major concessions from exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was designed by supporters of a leader of the coup that overthrew him, say diplomats and political experts here.

In embracing the plan, which has since been discarded, the Clinton Administration and the United Nations threw over their previous policies on restoring Aristide to office, including much of the U.N.-brokered Governors Island agreement between Aristide and the military that ousted him.

That July, 1993, pact had called for the resignation of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his high command, reform of the military and separation of Haiti's army and police forces before Aristide returned. It foundered when the military repudiated it three months later.

The new plan to break the ensuing stalemate "was hatched in early February" during a meeting at the home of coup supporter Fritz Mev, according to a Haitian political expert.

Mev's family backed the September, 1991, coup that overthrew Aristide and has since provided financial support to the military regime.

Among those attending the meeting were key advisers to Port-au-Prince police chief Michel-Joseph Francois, who led the uprising against Aristide: his brother, Evans Francois, and Sen. Robert Monde, whom diplomats and other foreign officials describe as "a virtual employee" of the Mev family.

The Haitian political expert said Monde drafted the plan, while Mev and Evans Francois made suggestions. The source's account was confirmed by another Haitian who knows what took place at the meeting; by diplomats and other foreign officials, and by U.S. officials in Washington.

But their account was disputed by President Clinton's special envoy on Haiti, Lawrence Pezzullo, who said in a telephone interview: "I would suggest that it does not reflect the events of the time. It just didn't happen that way."

The American ambassador to Haiti, William Swing, declined to respond to requests for an interview. Embassy spokesman Stanley Shrager said he had no knowledge of the situation.

However, a senior State Department official, while not denying that a meeting involving the Mev family, Monde and Evans Francois took place, said such a discussion would have been just one step in a long and complicated process.

He also denied that the proposal originated at the meeting. Instead, he argued that it became clear as far back as October, when the Governors Island agreement was not implemented on schedule, that something had to be done to broaden the government in order to persuade the military and anti-Aristide forces to cooperate.

From that point, the official said, the process moved in fits and starts until February, when the proposal was finalized. He insisted that until it was made public, Aristide had agreed to its concepts.

Haitian and diplomatic sources say the Monde-drafted plan--labeled a bipartisan Haitian legislative initiative--was forcefully championed at the State Department by its chief expert on Haiti, Michael Kozak.

Kozak knew where the plan had come from and about the involvement of police chief Francois' supporters, but he approved it in spite of that, the sources say. The senior State Department official did not challenge that assertion.

"You have to wonder what was really at work in Washington," said one diplomat from a country closely involved in the effort to restore Aristide to office. "Here is Kozak, who has spent a lot of time here and presumably knows that the military can't be trusted, accepting a proposal even when he knows it betrays such crucial needs as reforming the military."

Nonetheless, Kozak apparently made his case well. President Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali eventually adopted the plan virtually as their own.

The new policy not only failed to set a date for Aristide's return from exile but also called for him to make several major concessions that would have seriously reduced his governing authority. And it would have left most of the military, including Francois, in place and unpunished.

Francois, who is widely considered the de facto co-leader of the current military regime along with Cedras, the army commander, was a key figure in the coup and acquired greater power afterward. U.S. officials have held him responsible in the past for running massive smuggling operations, including the narcotics trade, and for organizing and directing armed civilian groups that terrorize the population, particularly Aristide supporters.

Aristide quickly rejected the new policy. The dispute climaxed his acrimonious relationship with both the George Bush and Clinton administrations over the best way to restore democracy and return him to Haiti.

Last Wednesday, Aristide announced that he was abrogating a 1981 treaty allowing the United States to board Haitian ships and to turn back their passengers immediately; diplomats said his decision was a result of his anger over the February proposal. The sources also blame the failure of a later, less drastic plan on the same furor.

Adoption of the plan also ignited smoldering resentment and frustration within the U.S. Embassy here. Disagreement about both political and immigration policies prompted charges of disloyalty and an angry demand by a high-ranking diplomat that officials in the mission be punished for news leaks.

The U.S. officials here who have expressed discontent, like the foreign diplomats and pro-democracy Haitian civilians who feel dismay over Washington's policies, blame Kozak's role in the affair. The Haitian political expert described it as "duplicitous." Another Haitian source said that at best Kozak gave the Haitian military yet another reason to discount American resolve to restore Aristide.

"He created a moral equivalency between Aristide and the military," said this Haitian critic, referring to Kozak's remark during the battle over the plan in February that "extremists on both sides" were scuttling it.

"That put Aristide on the same level as the killers," the Haitian said.

Seeking to explain U.S. acceptance of a plan that made so many concessions to the Haitian military, some officials say Kozak and other U.S. policy-makers decided that the only way to end the impasse was to exploit or create divisions within the military, to play Francois off against Cedras.

According to one source, Francois agreed to force Cedras to leave if Aristide was pushed to drop his demands for the police chief's own removal and reform of the military, to name a new prime minister acceptable to his opponents and to extend amnesty to most military officers.

Indeed, the February plan did not include those demands, and the United States and the United Nations stopped talking about them, even in private conversations with reporters, as vital conditions for restoring Aristide.

In any event, the fallout from the now-discarded plan seems to be another change in U.S. policy, or at least its public face.

After the loud failure of the plan and its even louder denunciation by Aristide, the U.S. Black Congressional Caucus demanded changes, particularly Pezzullo's resignation. Two leading human rights organizations accused the special envoy of developing a policy that put the Clinton Administration in league with "a murderous armed force."

In an open letter to Clinton, Americas Watch and the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees said the Administration's recent policy "has tarnished your presidency and discredited your stated commitment to democracy and human rights around the world."

Pezzullo, the letter said, has made "constant concessions to the Haitian military."

Although Pezzullo said he knows of no plan to replace him, his departure could come at any time, officials say. His successor is likely to be Donald McHenry, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington and former ambassador to the United Nations.

Times staff writer Art Pine in Washington contributed to this report.

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