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#3133: State Dept. Warns Haiti on Vote (fwd)


Wednesday April 5 2:07 PM ET  State Dept. Warns Haiti on Vote

 By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press Writer 

 WASHINGTON (AP) - A senior State Department official on Wednesday
 questioned the Haitian president's commitment to democracy and warned
that Haiti stands to lose desperately needed international aid if
elections are not held soon. Haitian President Rene Preval ``has
attempted to walk away from the commitments he made to us and more
importantly to the Haitian people,'' Peter Romero, acting
 assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, told the House
International Relations Committee. Romero criticized Preval's failure to
set a date for parliamentary elections. Haiti's constitution sets a June
12 deadline for the seating of the parliament, which was
 disbanded by Preval in January 1999. He said that without a parliament
some $400 million in promised international aid ``will probably
disappear' and ``our policy would undergo a serious review.''
The committee chairman, Rep. Ben Gilman, R-N.Y.,agreed that failure to
hold elections this month ``will seriously jeopardize the hard-won
support for Haiti presently held by the American people and the
international community.'' A U.N. force led by 20,000 U.S. troops moved
into Haiti in 1994 to restore democracy. In 1995 former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide stepped down for Preval, his hand-picked
successor, who has had spotty success in establishing order
 and economic foundations in the hemisphere's most impoverished nation.

 Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., an active supporter of Haiti, said that in
pushing for elections ``we must make sure we don't trip over some very
important realities'' such as the lack of an adequate national police
force and a 75 percent illiteracy rate. But Romero contended that ``the
time has never been more ripe for elections.'' He said nearly 4 million
Haitians, more than 90 percent of those eligible, have registered, and
that 29,000 candidates are competing for some 10,000 local, regional
 and parliamentary office. Photo IDs have been distributed and Haiti's
Provisional Electoral Council is on the verge of selecting 40,000
campaign workers.

 ``We could have elections by the end of the month if the political will
of the president is there,'' he said. ``We haven't seen it yet.''

 Opposition politicians have charged that Preval wants to postpone the
vote until December, when Aristide runs for another term as president
and parliamentary candidates in Aristide's camp could take advantage of
his popularity. Prospects for elections this spring have also been hurt
by a number of violence incidents recently. A prominent journalist was
murdered this week, a local political was killed last week and there
have been outbreaks of mob violence.