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8364: Judge in Haiti rights case flees country (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Trenton Daniel

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, June 18 (Reuters) - The judge investigating the
murder of a prominent Haitian journalist that has highlighted a
deteriorating human rights situation in the Caribbean nation fled abroad
for his own safety, a justice official said on Monday.
     Judge Claudy Gassant officially resigned on Friday and left Haiti the
next day for Miami.
     "Judge Gassant said he left the country for family reasons, and he
also said that he left for security reasons," Justice Minister Gary Lissade
told Reuters.
     The investigation seeks to bring to trial the killers of 69-year-old
Jean Leopold Dominique, Haiti's most prominent radio broadcaster, who was
shot dead along with security guard Jean-Claude Louissaint on April 3,
     Gassant told Signal FM radio station he stepped down because he did
not receive sufficient security and cars to accommodate bodyguards to carry
out the investigation.
     He said he would return to the case if Lissade arrested two officials
who were allegedly interfering in the investigation.
     Lissade responded that he would "provide Gassant whatever he wants to
complete the investigation" and stated, "I will continue to give him all
that he needs as far as his security is concerned." Regarding the two
arrests sought by Gassant, Lissade said he was considering action in one.
     Six people have been arrested so far in the case that is pushing the
limits of the impoverished country's troubled judiciary.
     Amnesty International said recently the human rights situation in
Haiti was worse last year, when Dominique was killed, than at any time
since a U.S. invasion ended military rule and restored President Jean
Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994.
     Gassant has said he needs automatic weapons, landcruisers and security
guards to ensure his personal safety and that he has been the victim of
daily threats.
     Gassant told Reuters last January the case was so dangerous that he
changed cars and the place he slept at night to elude potential assassins.
He said he had 10 bodyguards.
     Supporters of Dany Toussaint, a Lavalas legislator who has failed to
appear for questioning several times, protested in the capital last Friday
to warn against any attempt to arrest him in connection with the case.
     Local grass-roots and international human rights groups  have pressed
the government to ensure that Gassant properly finishes the investigation.
     "We are preoccupied with the new developments," said Guyler Delva,
head of a local press freedom organization. "The judiciary should comply
with Gassant's requests so that the judge can complete the investigation."
     Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who became president in 1991,
was toppled by a military coup seven months into his first term. A U.S.
invasion restored him to power in 1994 and he resigned in 1996 under a
constitutional mandate and passed the mantle to his protege, Rene Preval.
     Aristide was re-elected last November and took office in February but
is engaged in a dispute with the opposition.