Aristide can return - Preval

2006-02-23 11:23

Port-Au-Prince - Haitian president-elect Rene Preval said on Wednesday that exiled president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, his former mentor, was entitled under Haiti's constitution to return to the Caribbean country.

But Preval, who has been told directly by Washington that it opposes the deposed president's return, said the decision should be made by Aristide.

The future of Aristide, a hero to the poor ousted by an armed revolt two years ago who now says he wants to go home as soon as he can, is a critical issue for Preval as he attempts to stabilise his violent nation.

Washington, which backed the departure of the former Roman Catholic priest from Haiti in February 2004, repeated its opposition to his return on Wednesday.

State department spokesperson Adam Ereli said: "It is probably not a good idea, it does not serve a useful purpose."

Aristide, who won two presidential elections only to be driven from power both times, was accused of despotism and corruption in his second term.

Six days after being declared the winner of the February 7 presidential election, Preval spoke cautiously about Aristide when he held his first news conference on Wednesday and insisted that Aristide himself would decide whether to return.

"The constitution says no Haitian needs a visa to leave the country or come back to the country," said Preval. "A president has an obligation to respect the constitution."

In South Africa, Aristide said on Tuesday he expected to return to Haiti "as soon as possible" and said he planned to help shape the future of his country as a private citizen with a focus on education.

"I am confident that I can serve my country without being involved as the president of the country now," said Aristide. He declined, however, to rule out a return to politics.

The South African opposition is anxious for Aristide to leave citing the massive resources devoted to his stay as wasteful.