The Associated Press
February 21, 2004

Haiti Leader Agrees to Peace Plan


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide agreed Saturday to a U.S.-backed peace plan calling for shared power with political opponents, a
new prime minister and fresh legislative elections.

But Aristide, who gets to remain president, appeared to lay down a condition. He declared he would ``not go ahead with any terrorists,'' referring to rebels who have led a bloody two-week-old uprising that has killed more than 60 people and chased police from dozens of towns.

The president's consent came hours after U.S.-led diplomats arrived in the Haitian capital to push the agreement. The envoys met later Saturday with opposition leaders,
urging them to accept a deal that falls short of their demand that the embattled Aristide resign.

Although not allied, Haiti's rebels and political opponents both insist that Aristide leave office. Throughout the recent bloodshed, the president has said he will not step
down before his term ends in 2006.

``The plan attempts to pull his (Aristide's) teeth but doesn't have the means,'' opposition leader Evans Paul said before meeting with the diplomats. He also complained
that the U.S.-backed plan fails to call for foreign peacekeepers to enforce it.

Amid the negotiations, the State Department ordered the withdrawal of all nonessential U.S. personnel and family members from the U.S. Embassy, citing continuing
violence in the Caribbean nation.

The U.S.-backed plan requires the government and opposition to agree by Tuesday to a three-way commission of representatives from both sides and international
delegates. It also calls for the appointment of a prime minister agreeable to both sides and for parliamentary elections.

``We have agreed to have a new government with a new prime minister,'' Aristide said after a two-hour-long meeting with the diplomatic mission, led by Roger Noriega,
the top U.S. envoy for the Western Hemisphere.

Saturday's breakthrough came a day after militant Aristide loyalists attacked anti-government protesters, hurling rocks and bottles, firing shotguns and swinging machetes. No police arrived to protect the protesters, and at least 14 people were injured. A journalist shot twice in the back was in serious condition.

Opposition leaders got news of Friday's violence as U.S. Ambassador James Foley and five other diplomats were giving them a timetable for the peace plan -- of which
two key points are disarming politically motivated gangs and setting rules for political demonstrations.

Aristide accuses the political opposition of supporting the armed rebellion, which erupted Feb. 5. Of the casualties, about 40 police have been killed in gunbattles and other violence with rebels who have attacked them and burned police stations across northern Haiti.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe said Friday the next rebel target is Haiti's second-largest city, Cap-Haitien, where he served as police chief before fleeing in 2000 amid charges that he plotted a coup.

Aristide's government spokesman, Mario Dupuy, said "the government hopes the mission will be able to detach the opposition from acts and actors of violence ... the
opposition has a chance to prove it is not in favor of violence and terrorism.''

Noriega was accompanied by diplomats from a range of nations in Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. The international community's message appeared to have
been that Aristide must accept the plan or confront the rebels alone.

Scores of Americans, including missionaries and aid workers, left Haiti on Friday after the United States urged them to flee the mounting violence in government-held
areas and threats of new rebel attacks over this Carnival weekend.

The U.S. warning intensified Saturday, with nonessential embassy workers ordered out of the country.

The airport was busy Saturday, but mostly with Haitians who said they were going to spend Carnival in Miami. There were a few seats on American Airlines' six daily
flights to the United States.

Rebels have cut supply lines to northern Haiti by blocking the highway at Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city, with barricades of shipping containers. Aid agencies warn a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent, as food, medical supplies and gas run out.

The United States blames Aristide's government for the crisis, saying it ignored mounting problems and did not halt police corruption, act on promises to negotiate with the opposition and end growing civil disorder.

Haiti's government and opposition leaders have been unable to agree on a prime minister since flawed legislative elections in 2000 were swept by Aristide's Lavalas

Aristide, who won Haiti's first free elections in a landslide in 1990, has lost support since his re-election. Haiti's chronic misery has deepened since international donors
froze aid.

The president, a former priest, has responded to growing opposition by using police and armed gangs to stifle dissent.