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a630: Crime, drugs and Haiti to dominate agenda at CaribbeanCommunity summit (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Crime, drugs and Haiti to dominate agenda at Caribbean Community summit

By Bert Wilkinson
The Associated Press
Posted February 3 2002, 7:03 PM EST

BELIZE CITY, Belize -- Caribbean leaders began a three-day summit Sunday with a private meeting on a resort island to discuss how they can counter an increase in violent crimes in the region.

The leaders were expected to work late into Sunday night, examining reports about increases in gun violence and drug trafficking and discuss the problem of Caribbean natives who are deported after serving time in prisons abroad, said Caribbean Community spokesman Leonard Robertson.

``Crime and security had a lot to with the activities on Sunday,'' Robertson said, saying the leaders were in a private caucus, but more details would be available Monday.

More than 3,000 Caribbean-born convicts were sent home by U.S., British and Canadian immigration officials last year. Some leaders have blamed deportees as contributing to increasing violent crime, such as Jamaica's record 1,138 homicides last year among its 2.6 million population.

On Tuesday, the leaders from the 14-member Caricom trade bloc are to meet with six Central American leaders to discuss better cooperation and trade.

The Caribbean leaders also are expected to discuss political crises in Haiti and Trinidad during their summit. Caricom just finished a fact-finding mission last week in Haiti, where it has been encouraging the government and opposition to hold talks.

The government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the opposition disagree on the specifics of holding new elections to make up for flawed local and legislative votes in 2000. Hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid has been suspended until an agreement is reached.

While many heads of state from the region were expected to attend, Aristide and Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad were not on the list for the meeting - the first of two official summits the community holds each year.

Trinidad and Tobago's leaders are locked in a political crisis following general elections in December that resulted in 18 parliamentary seats each for the country's two main parties.

A Caribbean Community mission, led by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham of the Bahamas, was in Trinidad late last month to examine the situation and urge compromise.

Manning and his rival, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday, had agreed to hold new elections within the year, but they have clashed on the question of sharing power in the meantime.

Haiti is an urgent topic for leaders at the summit due to increased tensions in the impoverished country since a Dec. 17 attack on the National Palace that the government described as a coup attempt. At least 10 were killed in the assault and subsequent violence.

Haiti was accepted as an associate member of the Caribbean Community in 1997 and will become a full member as soon as its parliament ratifies the move. Haiti's population of 8.2 million would make it the community's most populous member.

The delegations at the summit also are to look at a report recommending that the Barbados-based Caribbean Media Corp. receive regional support from governments following its collapse last month amid mounting debts.

Meanwhile, the Cayman Islands is set to join the Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Anguilla in becoming an associate member of the Community. The agreement will be signed on Sunday.

A similar application by the mid-Atlantic British island of Bermuda is expected to be approved at the annual July conference in Guyana.