by Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – Former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, who started a hunger strike 16 days ago to protest his imprisonment, should be released immediately, a U.S. politician said on Monday.
Neptune, who served under ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has said he is a political prisoner. He was arrested in June and has been detained without a trial.
U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, met with Neptune at the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and said his health is deteriorating.
“Yvon Neptune is very bad,” Waters told reporters. “As I finished my discussion with him, he was weakened to the point where he needed to lie down.”
Neptune went into hiding after Aristide left Haiti on Feb. 29, 2004, in the face of a monthlong armed revolt and under U.S. and French pressure to quit.
The National Coalition for Haitian Rights, a group perceived as anti-Aristide, has accused Neptune of planning what it called a massacre on Feb. 11, 2004, in La Syrie, a small village near Saint Marc, 60 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
The National Coalition for Haitian Rights said 50 people were killed. But journalists who visited Saint Marc at the time only found five bodies after Aristide supporters and police briefly retook the town from rebels.
Waters said she had tried to convince Neptune to end the hunger strike, “but he said he would not.”
“He is in a weakened position and I do not believe that he can continue this fast without causing his death,” Waters said. She also said she believed Neptune was not guilty of any crime.
Waters called Neptune a political prisoner and said Haiti’s interim government, which was installed following Aristide’s departure last year, was holding him “for no good reason.”
Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has repeatedly rejected allegations that the government has detained Aristide allies for political reasons.
Former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, detained since April 7, is also on a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment.