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#1362: Fire in Haitian town was political - officials say


Fire in Haitian town was political - officials                        
02:15 p.m Dec 13, 1999 Eastern  By Jennifer Bauduy 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Dec 13 (Reuters) - A fire that injured at least 10
people and destroyed 14 houses in the southwestern city of Jeremie was
deliberately set by groups opposed to Haiti's  upcoming legislative
elections, officials said on Monday. ``This was part of a plan being
fuelled by enemies of change in  the country who want to spread panic in
the department,'' said  Ernso St. Clair, president of the electoral
office for the  southwestern department of Grande-Anse, of which Jeremie
is the capital. Haiti's first legislative and municipal election in
nearly three years is set for March 19. The last vote -- in April 1997
-- triggered  fraud allegations and led to a political crisis that
virtually paralysed the Haitian government. The fire flared in a
residential area of Jeremie on Friday and left some 50 people homeless,
local authorities said. It also damaged buildings that house telephone
and electric company facilities. `Local authorities are well aware of a
plan to burn all the communal electoral bureaus in the department of
Grande-Anse,'' St. Clair said. ``There are threats being made every day
against  electoral officials and most recently declarations of war.''   
A few months ago, members of the Resistance Coordination of Grande-Anse
(KOREGA) Party, closely linked to the Lavalas Family Party of former
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had protested the naming of
St. Clair to head the department's electoral office. The group claimed
that St. Clair was affiliated with a political alliance known as the
Espace de Concertation. KOREGA party leaders made statements broadcast
on Haitian radio vowing that if St. Clair remained head of the electoral
office, elections would not take place in Jeremie.   The morning of the
fire, someone sabotaged Jeremie's water reservoir, cutting off the
town's water supply.  Recently, someone tried to set fire to an
electoral office in the  Grande-Anse village of Bonbon and electoral
materials were  stolen from an electoral office in nearby Corail.   
``The political situation is very complicated in this region,'' Carlo
  Dupiton, a member of the Provisional Electoral Council, which is    
organising elections, said on Radio Haiti Inter. `It appears that there
are some forces that do not want  elections ... But overall in the
Grande-Anse things are going  well,'' Dupiton said. On Saturday, a
governmental delegation led by Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis
visited Jeremie and announced the release of $5 million in aid to fire