Aristide Plans To Sue U.S., France

Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, right, is greeted by officials in Bangui, Central African Republic upon his arrival early Monday March 1, 2004 in this image taken from video made available Tuesday March 2, 2004.
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's legal team is preparing cases accusing authorities in the United States and France of abducting him and forcing him into exile.

Aristide believes he is still president of Haiti and will use the courts during his fight to return home, U.S. lawyer Brian Concannon said Wednesday in Paris after meeting Aristide in exile in Central African Republic.

Meanwhile, U.S. Marines shot and killed at least two Haitians in overnight gun battles, Staff Sgt. Timothy Edwards told The Associated Press on Wednesday, after coming under "hostile fire."

It was the third fatal shooting incident in three days involving the Marines, who have killed a total of four Haitians since arriving Feb. 29.

Also, Haiti's advisory council named an interim prime minister to pave the way for elections, and a U.N. food agency appealed for $4 million in aid to buy seeds and tools to help thousands of Haiti's struggling farmers, whose plight has been worsened by weeks of bloody upheaval.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said Wednesday the farming sector, already weakened by years of poverty, has been hard hit by the political violence.

"Many farmers face the risk of being unable to sell their harvest and therefore to get the resources needed to afford essential foodstuffs such as oils, meat and beans," the U.N. agency said, noting that travel was dangerous and roads have been damaged.

Some 5 million of Haiti's 8 million people live in rural areas, and the U.N. agency estimated that three million of these are facing serious difficulties.

The new prime minister, Gerard Latortue, a former U.N. official and foreign minister, faces the difficult task of helping to restore peace in this troubled Caribbean nation following a month-long insurgency that helped drive Aristide from power on Feb. 29.

"I can facilitate the national reconciliation," Latortue, who lives in Florida, told The Miami Herald in an article published Wednesday. "It is the most important thing today in Haiti after all the divisions we had in Aristide.

"It is time for us to forget our differences and come together for the country in this bicentennial year," added Latortue, who was expected to return to Haiti soon to take up the post.

Aristide fled after rebels had seized control of half the country, sparking a frenzy of looting and violence. More than 400 people have died in the rebellion and reprisal killings.

In the United States, "there are preparations for a kidnapping case against the American authorities," Concannon said, without providing further details.

Another U.S. lawyer for Aristide, Ira Kurzban, has sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the circumstances of Aristide's departure on Feb. 29.

While U.S. authorities say Aristide fled of his own will as his government collapsed and rebels advanced on Port-au-Prince, Aristide's lawyers claim that U.S. authorities forced him to board a 20-hour flight out of the country.

"He was not free to leave the plane," Concannon said. "He was not free to decide the plane's direction. He did not even know where the plane was going."

Concannon also said that French and U.S. authorities threatened Aristide before he signed a letter of resignation and fled.

"The ambassadors of France and the U.S. told him that he would be killed, his family would be killed and his supporters would be killed if he did not leave right away," Concannon said.

In France, a lawyer is preparing a complaint for "complicity in abduction" against four people connected with the Foreign Ministry, Concannon said.

He identified them as: Thierry Burkard, France's ambassador to Haiti; Yves Gaudel, the former ambassador; Regis Debray, president of a commission on French-Haiti relations; and Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's sister, Veronique. She and Debray visited Aristide in December to demand his resignation, according to his French lawyer, Gilbert Collard.

Collard said he will file a legal complaint in France as soon as he receives clearance from Aristide. But he would not name the targets of the complaint.

"At the very least, France was an accomplice," Collard said.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said he had no comment on the lawyers' plans. Last week, a ministry spokesman said that officials had no preconceived ideas on how Haiti's crisis should be resolved until just days before Aristide's resignation, when the foreign minister himself suggested that Aristide step down.

U.S. officials strongly deny claims that Aristide was abducted. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said they acted at Aristide's request and probably saved his life.

At least 130 people were killed in the rebellion that ousted Aristide; reprisal killings since his ouster have left at least 300 dead.

"As stated for several days, President Aristide resigned voluntarily, after he initiated discussion of the matter with our rep in Haiti," a State Department official said this week on customary condition of anonymity. "We consider his resignation final and hope that he will respect the constitutional process under way."

The ousted leader has been in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic, since March 1 and is housed in a presidential palace apartment.