Haiti Strongman Says U.S. Panel--but Not Troops--Is Welcome

From Associated Press

Haiti's military chief would welcome a proposed U.S. fact-finding commission but says military invaders would meet strong popular resistance.

"The defense of the country does not come only from the armed forces. The American troops would have in front of them a people," Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras said in an interview broadcast Saturday on CNN's "Evans & Novak."

Cedras, a leader of forces that overthrew elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, tacitly endorsed a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) for a commission to help set a new U.S. policy on Haiti. Dole and other members of Congress have raised doubts about Clinton Administration efforts to return Aristide to power.

President Clinton wants to force Cedras and other coup leaders out of power with a worldwide trade embargo, though he has said military action remains an option. Some members of Congress have urged Clinton to invade.

Citing Dole's idea, Cedras said, "What we hope is that finally, for once, somebody may come here and understand the Haitian problem, not come with preconceived ideas."

Cedras was interviewed last week during commentator Robert Novak's trip to Haiti. He spoke through an English translator.

Dole on Friday reiterated his proposal in a Senate speech in which he warned against an invasion of Haiti to restore Aristide to power, calling instead for a bipartisan fact-finding commission whose recommendations could form the basis of a new Haiti policy.

Cedras also said he hopes former Rep. William H. Gray III (D-Pa.), whom Clinton recently appointed as a special envoy for the Haitian crisis, would "come in a spirit of justice, in an open spirit, to understand the Haitian problem and to understand that truth is not really what is being said."

Cedras denied that refugees who flee and are returned by the United States are subject to military abuse.

He said a 16-member soccer team that recently failed to gain political asylum during a trip abroad is now back home playing soccer.

Cedras asserted that tougher U.N. sanctions to be imposed May 21 if he and other military leaders do not step down and allow Aristide's return will only cause more suffering. Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, was elected with a strong vote by Haiti's poor and has lived in exile since his September, 1991, ouster.

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