The Miami Herald
Fri, Apr. 02, 2004

Haitian leaders want Aristide to face charges

Haiti's justice minister wants to charge ousted President Aristide with corruption and abuses, but there are no plans to jail rebels who led an uprising.

Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Haiti's U.S.-backed interim government plans to ask for the extradition of ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide on charges of corruption and rights abuses that are under investigation, the new justice minister said in an interview Thursday.

The plan could further complicate Aristide's efforts to find a permanent home in exile.

In coming weeks, Haitian authorities will appoint an independent body to investigate allegations of embezzlement and assassinations under Aristide, Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said.

''We are setting up a team to assemble all the violations . . . for which he is responsible, and then we'll formally ask for his extradition,'' he said, declining to give a time frame. ``The most urgent thing that the population is awaiting is the fight against impunity, because there have been too many abuses.''

Gousse was more cautious about ensuring justice for two convicted assassins among rebel leaders whose uprising led to Aristide's flight. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has been criticized for praising them as ``freedom fighters.''

If any action is taken, he said, ``We must do it in a way that will not promote disorder.''

He said Louis-Jodel Chamblain, the co-leader of an army death squad who was convicted in his absence and sentenced to two life terms in jail for the assassinations of Aristide's justice minister and chief financier, would have to be retried in person to comply with Haitian law.

And he said the government could pardon Jean Tatoune, another rebel leader who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in a massacre of Aristide supporters. Tatoune was liberated from jail last year by a street gang that began the rebellion.

''He could be pardoned,'' Gousse said. ``We have to take into consideration that he helped get rid of two dictators in Haiti -- [Jean-Claude] Duvalier and Aristide.''

Human rights groups have been outraged by the two hobnobbing with government officials and strutting around Haiti armed, being hailed as saviors and pressing for the reconstitution of the disgraced Haitian army notorious for brutalizing civilians to keep a small elite in power.

In the meantime, Gousse said the government was looking to recruit 500 police officers and would consider rebels, including ex-soldiers, who would be screened for past abuses. He expected fewer than 200 to qualify.

Gousse said he did not think Aristide's whereabouts presented ''an impediment'' to extradition, though it was unclear whether Haiti had treaties with Jamaica or South Africa. Aristide fled Feb. 29, as rebels were reaching the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.