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8130: Regional leaders urge political settlement in Haiti (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Trenton Daniel

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, May 31 (Reuters) - Regional leaders urged
Haiti's business groups and international allies on Thursday to push harder
for a settlement of the political stalemate arising from last year's
parliamentary election in the Caribbean nation.
     Cesar Gaviria, secretary general of the Organization of American
States, led a joint OAS and Caribbean Community delegation to Haiti in an
attempt to help break the impasse, but sounded pessimistic as he prepared
to leave.
     "We could say that the environment we found was not a very positive
one, we think that the environment is not good enough for a political
settlement in Haiti, for a Haitian solution to the political crisis,"
Gaviria said at a news conference.
     "We think the international community has to enhance its role of
meditation in Haiti ... Members of civil society and the private sector in
Haiti should play a positive role to create an environment of negotiations
and  settlement."
     Gaviria, former president of Colombia, said he was taking a letter of
proposals from Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to the OAS General
Assembly meeting in Costa Rica June 3-5. He would not elaborate on the
     The OAS delegation was the eighth to visit Haiti since August in an
attempt to resolve the dispute over the May 2000 election. OAS observers
said election supervisors incorrectly tabulated results, giving candidates
from Aristide's Lavalas Family party 10 Senate seats that should have been
decided in run-off elections.
     The government refused to recount the contested races, prompting the
15-party opposition bloc Democratic Convergence to boycott the November
vote that returned Aristide to the presidency. Convergence also formed a
symbolic parallel government to challenge Aristide's legitimacy.
     The election dispute prompted foreign donors to withhold more than
$500 million in desperately needed aid to the Western Hemisphere's poorest
country. Around 80 percent of Haitians live in abject poverty, earning less
than $2 a day, and two-thirds suffer from malnutrition.
     Gaviria said Haiti's economy had deteriorated in the past year and its
people would suffer further unless a political solution is found. "The
people of Haiti will have a significant, we could say, loss of economic
capacity, of income," he said.
     Last week, the government and the opposition parties agreed on a venue
for negotiations, but Convergence said it would not meet until a recently
detained political ally and former soldiers were freed. The opposition has
also called for fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.
    "We are very worried about the lack of trust between the two parties,"
said Gaviria, who was accompanied by Dame Eugenia Charles, a former prime
minister of Dominica. "Everyone in this country has to do a lot more, has
to say a clear message that a political settlement has to be done."
     Aristide, a former priest who gained power with wide grass-roots
support in 1991, was overthrown by a military junta seven months into his
first term. A U.S.-led invasion restored him to power three years later and
he was reelected to a five-year term as president in November.