Ousted Haitian President Aristide claims he was ``kidnapped''
By JIM DEFEDE, CAROL ROSENBERG AND MARTIN MERZER
Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide claims he ''did not resign'' and was ''kidnapped'' by U.S. diplomatic and military officials, U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters told The Herald on Monday.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the claim ``complete nonsense.''
''It was Mr. Aristide's decision to resign,'' he said.
Secretary of State Colin Powell also vehemently denied the charge and said Aristide was joined on his flight to exile with 15 members of his own security detail, an indication that he had not been kidnapped by the United States.
The assertions relayed by Waters and others came as rebel leader Guy Philippe and his forces rolled unopposed into Port-au-Prince. Many people welcomed them with open arms. No new violence was reported.
At the same time, hundreds of newly arrived U.S. Marines and French and Canadian officers fortified their positions in the capital, which include the airport, the seaport and the presidential National Palace.
Waters, a Democrat from California and a long-time supporter of Aristide, said she spoke with the now former president of Haiti on Monday morning. After fleeing from Haiti early Sunday, Aristide landed overnight in the Central African Republic.
''The world must know it was a coup,'' Waters quoted Aristide as saying. ``That I was kidnapped. That I was forced out. That's what happened. I did not resign. I did not go willingly. I was forced to go.''
Aristide made no such claim during a brief public statement when he arrived in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic.
During a radio broadcast from Bangui, he said that the rebels who forced him to flee had ``chopped down the tree of peace, but it will grow again, as its roots are Louverturian.''
That was a reference to Toussaint Louverture, who led a revolt of black slaves in 1791 and established a free state on the island of Hispaniola, now shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
A resignation letter reportedly signed by Aristide was read to the world media in Port-au-Prince on Sunday.
Randall Robinson, former head of TransAfrica and a longtime Aristide friend, also spoke with Aristide and the Aristide's wife on Monday and relayed a similar account. He said Aristide was ''fairly impassioned'' and ``said he did not resign.''
''He said he was taken at gunpoint,'' Robinson said. ``Now I don't know that hands were laid on him. I think when you have big guns, the hands aren't necessary, you get the point.''
It was not completely clear if Aristide was using the term ''kidnapped'' in the literal sense or metaphorically, but Robinson was inclined to take the report literally.
''The point is he was taken against his will,'' Robinson said from his home on the island of St. Kitts. ``That he was clear about, so I don't think it was the metaphorical usage.''
U.S. Ambassador James Foley said in Port-au-Prince on Sunday that Aristide was told Saturday night and Sunday morning that the rebels were advancing, his security could not be guaranteed and he should strongly consider signing a resignation letter and seeking asylum.
Other U.S. officials said they ''facilitated'' Aristide's departure by arranging for a secure airplane and finding a country that would accept him. They said Aristide realized that his shaky hold on power -- and his own safety -- was threatened.
''For Aristide, it was coming down to leaving on a Lear jet or in a body bag,'' one participant, requesting anonymity, told The Herald.
There were indications, however, that Aristide was misled about his destination. He reportedly asked to be taken to South Africa, but ended up instead in the Central African Republic.
Waters said Aristide was being held -- under guard by unspecified troops -- in that nation's Palace of the Renaissance.
''He feels like he is in jail,'' Waters said.
She said she spoke with Aristide and his wife, Mildred.
'The first thing Mildred said was, `The coup d'etat is complete. It has been completed' '' Waters told Herald columnist Jim DeFede.
''I talked to him and Mildred for about 15 minutes. He was anxious to get the word out that he did not leave voluntarily, that he was kidnapped, that he was forced out,'' Waters said.
She quoted Aristide as saying that Luis G. Moreno, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, came to his home with other diplomats and with U.S. Marines.
About 50 Marines were sent to the Haitian capital last week to, among other things, protect U.S. diplomats as they moved around the city.
''They told him he had to leave and leave now or he and many Haitians would be killed,'' Waters said. ``That Guy Phillipe and the old military folks from FRAPH [a notoriously brutal paramilitary group] were on their way to Port-au-Prince and the Marines would be with them [the rebels]. And that many people would die.''
Moreno could not immediatedly be reached for comment.
She said Aristide told her five people were in the group carried into exile. She identified them as Aristide, his wife, the president's brother, Claudy Joseph, and two security people, one named Frantz Gabrielle and another by the last name of Barteomy. Other reports said that Aristide's brother-in-law rather than a brother was in the group.
She said he told her that the plane's first stop was Antigua and they subsequently stopped at a military base. After another six-hour flight, they arrived in the Central African Republic, he said.
Waters said Aristide sounded ``angry, stressed, determined, really determined that people know he was kidnapped, that he did not go willingly, that he was forced out.
''He did not say he was abused,'' she said. 'I specifically asked him that, if he had been abused. He said, `No,' that they were very stern. He said he was ordered. He used that word, 'ordered.' And 'forced.' And 'kidnapped.' Those are the words that he used.''
According to media reports from Africa, the government in the Central African Republic said that, as ''a purely humanitarian'' gesture of solidarity with the Haitian people, it had agreed to ``take in the former president of the world's first black republic.''
The statement did not say how long Aristide would be welcome or where he might go afterward.
Back in Port-au-Prince, the multinational forces numbered no more than 400 by Monday morning. They included 200 U.S. Marines, about 140 French police and military forces and about 40 Canadian security forces.
The top officer on the ground was a battalion commander with the rank of lieutenant colonel, said Raul Duany, spokesman for the Pentagon's Southern Command in Miami. He declined to disclose the commander's name.
Hundreds more U.S. Marines were expected to arrive Monday, Duany said, with the total U.S. contingent to number about 2,000.
The first landing force -- with M-16 assault rifles, grenade launchers and a dozen HumVees with mounted 50-caliber machine guns -- would likely not start patrols of Port-au-Prince until after an initial assessment in consultation with the U.S. Embassy of the military requirements.
''I don't think we'll see any patrols going out to the city,'' Duany said Monday morning. ``We need more personnel and a better definition of the mission.''
The rules of engagement so far prohibited the Marines from talking with the rebels, but did permit them to be in the National Palace, protecting Alexandre Boniface, the Supreme Court chief justice who replaced Aristide under Haiti's constitution.
Herald staff writers Oscar Corral and Renato Perez contributed to this