Supporters of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide say his kidnapping claims may have prompted Central African officials to take away his phone.
BY MICHAEL A.W. OTTEY
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, exiled in the Central African Republic, is being denied access to a telephone, Miami lawyer Ira Kurzban said Tuesday.
Kurzban issued a statement that said authorities in the African country had taken Aristide's telephone -- his main means of communication since he resigned and went into exile Sunday.
The move came following Aristide's allegations that he had been kidnapped and taken to the Central African Republic against his will -- charges that U.S. and French officials vehemently deny.
Aristide's allegations Monday that he was being held hostage in the Central African Republic have upset officials in that nation.
''He's already started to embarrass us,'' government spokesman Parfait M'Bay was quoted as saying Tuesday by the French Agence France Press news agency. ``He's scarcely been here 24 hours, and he's causing problems for Central African diplomacy.''
But M'Bay was also quoted as saying the publicity is much welcomed.
''The hard-sell coverage in the press over the forced resignation of the former dictator has allowed Central Africa to brush up its image as a country of refuge and help,'' the newspaper Le Confident reported.
''We can now claim that the Central African Republic ranks among the world's great countries,'' the newspaper added in a story headlined ``An ousted president in Bangui.''
M'Bay said that Aristide and his wife, Mildred, have been treated well, housed in a luxury villa and given access to a phone -- apparently the phone he used to call journalists to complain about his ''kidnapping'' by U.S. soldiers.
M'Bay and French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told reporters that Aristide was free to leave.
French soldiers are guarding Aristide, but French and U.S. officials insist the former president resigned the presidency and is not the hostage that he and his supporters claim.
Interviewed by The Associated Press and CNN on Monday, Aristide said he was forced to resign and board a U.S. aircraft bound for parts unknown. He landed in the Central African Republic on Monday.
The Associated Press reported that officials in the Central African Republic would press Aristide to decide soon whether he wants to stay.
''It's up to ex-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to say if he wants to stay in Central Africa or if he wishes to go to South Africa,'' M'Bay said. ``That way we will know what moves we have to take.''
The government of Central African Republic had planned to meet Tuesday to discuss Aristide's future in the country, but the meeting was postponed because President Francois Bozize and Prime Minister Celestin Gaombalet were away from Bangui, the capital.
Aristide's presence in the African nation, which experienced a coup d'etat last year, is also causing internal upheaval.
Ange-Félix Patasse, the country's deposed president, said in a statement issued in Paris on Tuesday that Bozize's government is using Aristide to curry international favor. The United States and other governments have yet to recognize Bozize's government.
Aristide has asked to be flown to South Africa because he's a close friend of President Thabo Mbeki. But on Tuesday, Mbeki said there would be much discussion in South Africa and with the international community before his country opens its doors.
Panama has also been mentioned as a possible asylum nation, and officials there have said they would consider taking in Aristide. Ironically, Panama already hosts two of the members of the military junta that ruled Haiti after Aristide was toppled in 1991 and went into exile themselves on the eve of the U.S. invasion in 1994 -- Raoul Cedras and Philippe Biamby.