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#338: US says it is committed to Haiti despite pullout (fwd)
US says it is committed to Haiti despite pullout
06:37 p.m Aug 26, 1999 Eastern
WASHINGTON, Aug 26 (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday that
it remained committed to military help for Haiti despite its decision
to end the permanent stationing of U.S.forces in the troubled,
impoverished Caribbean nation. U.S. officials said two days ago that the
force, now numbering about 400 and based in the capital,
Port-au-Prince, would be withdrawn in the coming months and replaced by
a rotation of troops sent in on specific humanitarian missions.
The State Department sought to counter suggestions that this
reflected fading U.S. interest in supporting Haiti's efforts to build
democracy and a viable economy. ``The message is that we remain
committed to assisting Haiti stabilise itself politically,
economically, and that we remain present in Haiti and committed to the
policy,'' State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters.
``The U.S. military is not withdrawing from Haiti. We are enhancing our
military engagement with Haiti to provide a stronger presence through
better assistance and training throughout the island and beyond the
capital,'' he said. A force of some 20,000 American troops was sent to
Haiti in September 1994 to end a dictatorship and restore Haiti's first
freely elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Five years later the
force has dwindled, as has world interest in their mission. The U.S.
Support Group-Haiti remains in the country, providing a U.S. presence
and carrying out tasks such as school-building, road repair and medical
care. The decision to change the military approach followed pressure
from the Pentagon to end a mission that cost about $22 million
last year. In February, Gen. Charles Wilhelm, commander in chief of the
U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom), told Congress: ``As our continuous
military presence in Haiti moves into its fifth year, we see little
progress toward creation of a permanently stable internal security
environment.'' Foley said: ``We will move the focus of our assistance
now to outlying regions of Haiti where assistance is now needed most,
and ensure our military assistance teams are more mobile, more
responsive to the current needs of the greater Haitian population...''
He insisted: ``The U.S. military presence is not going to cease in
Haiti. The permanent stationing will transition to a rotational
approach in which, I think, you will virtually all the time have
some U.S. military presence in Haiti next year.''