Friday, May 19, 2006
L’ARCAHAIE, Haiti (AP) – President Rene Preval yesterday urged Haitians to help his fledgling government restore security so UN peacekeepers can leave, saying the troubled country can’t control its destiny with the presence of “foreign troops”.
Preval, who took power Sunday, said the 9,000-strong UN force was still needed to provide security in the bitterly divided Caribbean nation.
But he made it clear that he would prefer that the international troops leave Haiti.
“The faster we can achieve peace, the faster they can leave,” he told a cheering crowd of several thousand in this seaside town 50 kilometers
(31 miles) north of the capital, Port-au-Prince. “Why are we not the owners of our land? Because we have foreign troops in our land.”
Preval spoke at a ceremony marking the 203rd anniversary of Haiti’s Flag, an important holiday that rouses Haitians’ patriotic fervour.
Earlier, Preval laid a wreath at a statue of Haitian independence leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who fought off French colonizers to make Haiti the world’s first black republic.
“When we don’t have foreign troops here, we can say we’re the owners of our land again,” he said.
The Brazil-led peacekeeping force came to restore order after a bloody February 2004 revolt toppled Preval’s predecessor and former ally, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
After the revolt, Haiti’s capital exploded with street violence, blamed mostly on pro-Aristide gangs and renegade Haitian police.
With calm slowly returning to the nation, Preval called on Haitians to be more productive in order to attract investment to Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries. He cited tourism and manufacturing as potential opportunities.
“We need to start producing more so we don’t have to ask for aid,”
International officials say Preval’s cash-strapped government will need a quick infusion of funds to operate.
Juan Gabriel Valdes, who this week stepped down as the head of the UN mission, warned of more political turmoil unless Haitians see results in the next year.
“It would be frankly intolerable to see that for lack of international assistance at this point in time the country goes back to previous political and security conditions,” Valdes said.
After Preval’s speech, a small group of Aristide supporters with bullhorns chanted for the deposed leader’s return, singing “We voted for Preval so Aristide could come back.”
The protests could eventually pose a challenge to Preval, who has said Haiti’s constitution allows for Aristide’s return but hasn’t said if he would welcome back his former political mentor.
“It was the people who made Preval president. Whether he supports us or not we will be out here to fight for President Aristide’s immediate return,” said Aristide loyalist Jean Francky Chevalier.
Yesterday’s ceremony came as Haitians eagerly wait for details on Preval’s plan to revive the nation and to learn his pick for prime minister. Preval, who led Haiti from 1996-2001, reportedly plans to nominate his former prime minister for the job, Jacques Edouard Alexis.
Alexis, who attended yesterday’s ceremony but refused to answer questions from reporters, was an architect of Preval’s February 7 campaign victory and is seen as someone with the political clout to navigate Haiti’s fragmented parliament, where no party holds a majority.