Thursday, April 1, 2004

Ousted Haitian president launches 'abduction' suit

Haiti's ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has lodged a lawsuit in Paris claiming coercion involving United States and French officials forced him from power, his lawyer and legal authorities said.

The suit, for "threats, death threats, abduction and illegal detention" was lodged earlier this week, Aristide's lawyer, Gilbert Collard said. It designates the defendant as "X" - a French legal term for persons unknown - but specifically makes mention of the French and US ambassadors in Haiti, Thierry Burkard and James Foley, as well as a French writer, Regis Debray, and the sister of French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, Veronique Albanel, in the deposition.

The latter two figures were special French envoys sent to Haiti last year to discuss ways to calm roiling political tensions in the country stemming from 2000 legislative elections widely seen as fraudulent.

Mr Aristide was flown out of Haiti to Africa on February 29 after a three-week insurgency by armed rebels, who included previous coup plotters and death-squad leaders, who steadily advanced across the impoverished Caribbean state.

US forces escorted the former president from his official residence and provided the aircraft that carried him out of the country, while France, Haiti's former colonial ruler, has played a key role in setting up an interim government after Mr Aristide's departure. The former leader has repeatedly said he was threatened and made to leave by US and French agents. He is currently staying in nearby Jamaica despite arrangements for him to take up temporary exile in Nigeria.

Mr Collard said: "We have received a mandate from Mr Aristide and the US lawyer taking care of his interests, Mr Ira Kurzban, to lodge a lawsuit against any person who may be held responsible for abduction."

He added that "at the very least, France, which supported this abduction, has made itself an accomplice". He said that witness accounts, video footage and photographs would be included in the case to be taken to court.

Mr Collard said Mr Aristide's US lawyers were to engage a similar action in the US, but did not elaborate.

France's foreign ministry has said that Mr Aristide signed a formal resignation letter that opened the way to a new administration being set up in Haiti.

Mr Collard said the resignation, made "at night, while in the hands of armed soldiers", was unconstitutional and therefore invalid.

By US Terrorist 1 April 04