BBC Caribbean
March 5, 2004

South Africa admits sending weapons to Haiti

The Jamaica government has admitted that a South African airforce jet carrying weapons heading for Haiti landed at Norman Manley airport last week.

The Jamaican Ministry of Foreign Affairs initially denied knowledge of the aircraft but in a statement released on Thursday the ministry admitted the plane touched down on its way to Haiti.

The news came in response to South Africa’s revelation it had sent an aircraft carrying arms to Haiti, just before former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile.

Pretoria said that it sent a shipment of weapons to try and help Mr Aristide fight the rebels shortly before he was deposed.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota said the plane carrying arms landed in Jamaica and had been requested by Caricom.

'Caricom request arms'

The Jamaican Foreign Ministry said Prime Minister P.J. Patterson - in his capacity as Caricom chairman - had asked the South African President Thabo Mbeki to assist the Haitian police force with arms and ammunition.

The ministry said a request was then made by an unidentified source for the aircraft to be allowed to land in Jamaica for refuelling.

The plane was held by customs and remained guarded by the Jamaica Defence Force until its departure on Wednesday.

Ronny Mamoepa, Director for Communications with the South Africa Foreign Ministry told BBC Caribbean Service, the plane had never reached its destination.

"The issue at home was whether we had sent a plane to Haiti or not and the fact of the matter is that there was no South African plane in Haiti or Port-au-Prince and there was never any intention to send the plane to Haiti."


The ousted president is currently in the Central African Republic, from where it has been rumoured he will travel on to South Africa.

Mr Mamoepa said South Africa had not received any official asylum request.

"There may have been informal discussions about the matter but there is no official word from President Aristide requesting asylum in South Africa," he said.

South Africa is among those calling for an independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Mr Aristide’s departure on Sunday.

Caricom has also said Mr Aristide's allegations should be investigated.

US State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher has rejected the calls, saying there is nothing to investigate.

Mr Aristide on Thursday accused Paris of colluding with the US to remove him from office.

In a phone conversation with a French writer Mr Aristide said that he had signed a document to "avoid a bloodbath" but that there was no formal resignation.

The former president said he was the victim of a coup d'etat, forced to leave by "American agents".

Officials in the CAR now say Mr Aristide only knew of his destination 45 minutes before the plane touched down, and that he and his entourage were guarded by 60 US marines.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell has strenuously denied the allegation saying Mr Aristide went into exile "willingly".


In Haiti, a seven-member council of government and opposition members has been formed.

The council will name a new prime minister and government as part of an international plan to end the crisis in the country.

On Friday, Canada announced it would contribute 450 troops to the interim international force currently being formed in Haiti.

The force will help keep order ahead of a UN peacekeeping force expected to arrive in two or three months.

Defence Minister David Pratt said the troops would be accompanied by six helicopters.

He said he expected them to begin arriving in Haiti in about five days' time.

The troops will join 1,250 US Marines, and more than 800 French, Canadian and Chilean troops already in place.

Brazil has also announced it will send 1,100 troops to join the second phase of peacekeeping forces.

The US agreed at a meeting on Friday to lead the interim international force, the head of the French forces in Haiti, General Henri Clement-Bollet, told the AFP news agency.