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8548: Haiti talks fail to end political impasse (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Trenton Daniel

     PORT-AU-PRINCE, July 3 (Reuters) - Talks on choosing an elections
committee to break Haiti's long political impasse collapsed on Tuesday when
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's governing party and the opposition
failed to reach agreement on the council's mandate, officials said.
     The talks, which started Saturday with the help of a joint delegation
from the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community, were
meant to strike an accord over the members and mission of a nine-person
electoral council that would oversee a vote for seven disputed Senate seats
before year's end.
     An agreement would help free up some $500 million in foreign aid
withheld from the poor Caribbean nation of 7.8 million people, which has
been locked in a political stalemate since a disputed counting method in
parliamentary elections in May 2000 gave victory to Aristide's Lavalas
Family party.
     The dispute over the May election led opposition parties and foreign
governments to boycott last November's presidential election, which
returned Aristide to power.
     Officials and business leaders had been optimistic during the talks,
noting that a tentative consensus had been reached to include
representatives from Lavalas, a major opposition alliance, other political
parties, churches and human rights and business groups in the election
     But opposition bloc Democratic Convergence said Lavalas pulled back
Tuesday from the brink of an agreement. Convergence is calling for a fresh
parliamentary election.
     "When they returned (from a break), the Lavalas Family delegation
backed off," Convergence spokesman Paul Denis told reporters. "This
situation created a big surprise among everybody -- among the diplomatic
corps, international community, and church and civil society groups."
     Lavalas said unnamed "interest groups" were thwarting talks. The
ruling party has said it is doing everything it can to end the stalemate,
pointing to the resignation of seven senators to clear the way for new
     The lawmakers agreed to step down after the OAS approved Aristide's
plan last month to hold new elections for the seven contested senate seats.
Aristide has also said he will hold staggered legislative elections before
the end of 2002.
     Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who became Haiti's first
freely elected president in 1991, was overthrown by a military coup seven
months into his first term. A U.S.-led invasion restored him to power in
1994 and after his term ended in 1996 he relinquished power to his protege,
Rene Preval.