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#337: US Ends Permanent Presence in Haiti (fwd)


Thursday August 26 5:01 PM ET 
US Ends Permanent Presence in Haiti
By MICHAEL NORTON Associated Press Writer 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) - Nearly five years after sending thousands
of troops into Haiti to restore democracy, the United States is
replacing its permanent military presence with temporary missions, U.S.
officials said Thursday.Washington says the move will allow it to target
areas of the impoverished Caribbean nation that need the most support.
But some Haitians fear the change, coupled with the impending end of a
United Nations mission, could encourage enemies of an already
dysfunctional democracy - even though in recent years the small U.S.
force has played only a humanitarian role.``International support for
our fragile democracy remains indispensable,'' said Jean-Claude Bajeux,
a human rights activist. ``In the back of everybody's mind is the fear
of anarchy.''

Those concerns seem to be widely shared.

``Any change in U.S. policy to Haiti scares us,'' said Jeanine
Pierre-Louis, a 20-year-old student in Port-au-Prince.Conservative
politician Hubert Deronceray agreed: ``No lucid Haitian wants the United
States to drop Haiti from its agenda.''In September 1994, President
Clinton ordered 20,000 U.S. troops into Haiti to end three years of
bloody military-backed rule,restore a democratically-elected government,
and stem the flow of Haitian boat people to Florida shores.
The United States passed the baton to the United Nations in March 1995,
and the world body's mission turned to helping train a new Haitian
police force that replaced the demobilized Haitian army.Since March
1996, the 450-member U.S. Support Group has had non-combat military
personnel drill wells, build bridges,roads and schools, and run a field
hospital in Port-au-Prince. Its operations cost $20 million annually.
That mission will likely end by January, said Navy Lt. Jane Campbell,
spokeswoman for the U.S. Southern Command in Miami.Under a program in
effect elsewhere in Latin America, Southern Command will deploy National
Guard and reservist units to Haiti on a routine basis. The numbers will
depend on individual missions, Campbell said.White House spokesman Joe
Lockhart confirmed plans to ``move from a permanent force that's there
under this configuration and replace it with rotational assistance
teams.'' But he stressed: ``The U.S. military is not withdrawing from
Haiti.''Haiti's government had no formal reaction to the changeover. But
many Haitian politicians have called for the withdrawal of all
the U.S. troops, saying their presence is an affront to national
sovereignty.The U.S. military presence in Haiti also has drawn fire from
Republicans in Congress who claim the Clinton administration failed
to restore democracy in Haiti and that there is a security threat to the
U.S. soldiers.In March, Southern Command chief Gen. Charles Wilhelm
recommended the withdrawal of the U.S. Support Group because
of increased political turmoil in Haiti. Campbell said she was unaware
of any threats directed at the U.S. troops.Paralyzed by political
stalemate, Haiti had no effective government from June 1997, when
Premier Rosny Smarth resigned to protest rigged elections, until this
year, when President Rene Preval dismissed Parliament and appointed a
new premier and electoral council by decree.Haiti had planned a new
round of legislative and municipal elections for November, but problems
organizing the vote could delay the ballot until December.Haiti also
continues to be plagued by crime, corruption, allegations of police
brutality and an ineffective judicial system.In addition to the U.S.
Support Group phaseout, the U.N. police mission is scheduled to leave
Haiti on Nov. 30. U.N.Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Wednesday the
U.N. departure had raised security concerns and suggested some form of
a U.N. presence should remain in the Caribbean nation.The U.S. Support
Group, which made tens of thousands of health calls in Port-au-Prince
slums, will close its base near the international airport.The New
Horizons training exercises will take place throughout the country.
Training units will come frequently, stay for short periods, and camp on
their field of operation.