Envoy Urges Aristide Followers to Vote
By EDITH M. LEDERER
Associated Press Writer
UNITED NATIONS The top U.N. envoy to Haiti urged followers of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to reject violence and take part in elections, saying their participation could end the political polarization and turmoil in the Western hemisphere's poorest country.
Nearly a year after Aristide was ousted and forced into exile after an armed uprising, Juan Gabriel Valdes said Haitians have the opportunity to forge a new agreement among all political forces and create a transitional government that will tackle poverty and corruption.
He said the cooperation of Aristide's Lavalas Family party is essential but its members don't seem capable, for now, of publicly rejecting violence and announcing that they wi
ll participate in elections and act as a democratic party.
In a wide-ranging interview late last week, Valdes spoke of the complexity of trying to create a functioning government in a country which has had 200 years of formal freedom but a history of instability, political upheavals and violence.
"It is clear that the seeds of violence that have always been there in Haitian society were very much sown during the Aristide period," he said. "The level of tensions rose and confrontation and hatred between Haitians was very evident. ... They polarized the country."
Despite the deployment of a U.S.-led peacekeeping force, which was replaced by a U.N. force in June, rebels and former soldiers who ousted Aristide have refused to disarm and still occupy police stations in the countryside. In the capital and elsewhere, street gangs loyal to Aristide refuse to disarm until their opponents give up their weapons.
Valdes said the Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force was approaching its full strength of 6,700 troops, and he insisted that that force controls the country - not the former soldiers.
"There have not been any coup threats because these soldiers could never, ever make a military coup in Haiti," he said. "One of the myths that continues to persist, I would say with all due respect, within many experts on Haiti is that these military (forces) of today are the same that overthrew Aristide in the 90s. They have nothing to do with that. They are people without jobs who kept weapons and who should be disarmed."
About 200 of the rebels were soldiers in the army that Aristide disbanded in 1995, including all three rebel leaders.
But Valdes stressed that because the ex-soldiers can't overthrow the interim government doesn't mean that they have been disarmed and couldn't destabilize the country in the future.[/b:a99e76
"We think that one of the biggest problems in Haiti is the relationship between politicians, parties and armed gangs," he said.
The former Chilean ambassador to the United Nations said the level of violence in Haiti isn't much more serious than in the rest of Latin America.
The big difference is that in Latin America, with the exception of Colombia, "you don't have political parties or politicians who want to use those gangs and this violence in order to increase their own power in the political system," he said.
[b]"To be more precise ... some political leaders (in Haiti) have utilized armed gangs in order to increase their own power," Valdes said.
The U.N. mission's goal isn't to eliminate all violence in Haiti which is practically impossible to do in a short period of time, he said.
"We want to cut the links between the political groups and the violent groups, or the business groups and the violent groups, because this, of course
, allows this violence to reproduce itself permanently," Valdes said. "This is not easy to do, but I think we are making some progress."
At a high-level Security Council meeting on Wednesday, the U.N. envoy said that while security challenges remain complex, "attempts to deliberately destabilize the country launched by armed groups last November have indeed been overcome."
"We have also seen a reduction in violence and insecurity," he said. "And the launching by the government of political initiatives opens space for participation by all those who reject violence, and makes it easier to carry out the electoral process."
Interim President Boniface Alexandre is going to call for a national dialogue which Valdes said must include representatives from all sectors of society - including Lavalas.
It should agree on the rules for the campaign and the election and for recognizing the results of the vote, he said in the interview.
A national dialogue shou
ld agree on rules for the campaign and the election and could also help cut ties between armed groups and political groups, Valdes said.
"What we are trying to do is to help Haitians to find some sort of center axis around which they can organize their society ... without this sort of political polarization," Valdes said.