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France ready to join peace force in Haiti

PLA Daily 2004-02-25

PARIS, Feb. 24 (Xinhuanet) -- France reaffirmed Tuesday its willingness to join a peace force in Haiti and said it will meet in Paris with representatives of the Haitian government and rebels.

French President Jacques Chirac said in Budapest that he did not rule out France contributing to a "civilian peace force" in Haiti to help solve the civil unrest in the Caribbean country where three-week conflicts have left at least 70 people killed and several hundreds wounded.

"France does not rule out contributing to a civilian peace force which would essentially be constituted of nationals of the region and whose deployment falls under a decision by the UN Security Council," said Chirac, who was on a two-day official visit to Hungary.

He also called for negotiations to end the crisis which he said had been "handled disastrously for so long."

The statement of Chirac came one week after his Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin first put forward the idea of sending a peace force into Haiti on Feb. 17.

Underlining the "civilian" nature of the peace force, Chirac stayed in line with his defense ministry, which said last week that sending massive military forces is not on the agenda.

France has some 3,000 troops, transport aircraft, helicopters and warships in its overseas departments of Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guyana, four hours by plane and four days by ship from Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.

Last week, the UN Security Council expressed deep concern over the worsening violence and instability in Haiti but left it to regional groups to lead the search for a solution.

The United States said it has no plans for military intervention. Some 50 US marines flew into the Port-au-Prince airport on Monday to guard the American embassy and its supporting facilities.

For his part, de Villepin reaffirmed Tuesday that France is in favor of sending a peace force and announced that he will meet Haitian opposition groups in Paris.

"We are in a race against time to stop the violence, which is continually growing," de Villepin told Radio France Internationale.

"I will meet the representatives of this opposition in Paris," he said.

His ministry later said representatives of Haiti's government and opposition parties would fly to Paris this week to have separate meetings with de Villepin. No round-table talks are envisioned.

The main sticking point in the crisis is the rebels' demand that President Jean Bertrand Aristide leaves power by March 18 at the latest.

Rejecting a power-sharing peace plan proposed by the United States, France, the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS), the opposition put forward a proposal of their own, which demanded Aristide's resignation, and said they would delay a formal response for 24 hours after an urgent US request to do so.

The opposition had vowed to take the entire country within two weeks while Aristide loyalists pledged to fight the rebels till death.

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