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Aristide To Return To Caribbean

Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife will travel to Jamaica next week, returning to the Caribbean from exile in Africa less than three weeks after he fled, Jamaica's prime minister said Thursday.

Aristide wants to be reunited with his two young daughters, who are currently in New York City, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said. Day before their father fled Haiti, the girls were sent to stay with the mother of Aristide's wife, Mildred, for their safety.

Patterson said Aristide was not seeking political asylum in Jamaica.

"Mr. Aristide has expressed a wish to return temporarily to the Caribbean with his wife and to be reunited with their two young children, who are currently in the United States," Patterson said in a statement.

He added that Aristide was finalizing plans for "permanent residence outside of the region," though he didn't say where.

Aristide is expected to arrive early next week and will stay for between eight and 10 weeks, Patterson said.

It was unclear whether Aristide was not traveling directly to the United States by choice or because he wasn't welcome. He has accused the U.S. government of forcing him from office on Feb. 29, amid a bloody rebellion that was advancing on Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. The United States had denied that.

Also, on Thursday, Haiti's new prime minister began choosing a Cabinet, looking to a former army general to stabilize his traumatized country as U.S. Marines carried out their first disarmament mission.

With morgues full and government offices closed, bodies were piling up in the capital, littering the streets for days and serving as bitter reminders of an armed rebellion that has divided the country.

Prime Minister Gerard Latortue has said ridding the population of weapons is a top priority, and U.S. Marines raided a home near the presidential palace before dawn Thursday, hours after Latortue's return from Florida.

U.S. Army Gen. James Hill said troops would work to collect weapons, from "rusted M-1s to top-of-the-line Uzis."

"The message out of this is, we are looking, and we will continue to do so," Col. Charles Gurganus said.

On Thursday, shots were fired at a rally of hundreds of people carrying parasols with Aristide's image through downtown Belair.

"Aristide has to come back! We don't want Bush as president!" the protesters yelled.

They scattered when the shots were fired, some pulling out pistols and looking for the gunman. No injuries were reported.

Bodies were piling up in the capital's unrefrigerated morgue and on streets, serving as bitter reminders of the month-long rebellion.

Health officials normally are charged with collecting bodies in Port-au-Prince, but with no government, many corpses have been left to rot on sidewalks.

The toll from a month-long rebellion and reprisal killings has risen to more than 300, with the Pan-American Health Organization reporting an estimated 200 corpses at the state morgue as being victims of the violence.

At La Saline seaside slum, the body of a man shot on Tuesday remained in the street Thursday. Adults averted their eyes, but children on bicycles locked their gaze on the corpse.

"If the body stays another day, the pigs will start to eat it," said barber Remy Ileron, 40. "This month, that's been happening a lot."

Haiti's new prime minister said his priorities are disarmament and security, reconciliation, and organizing new elections - though many officials acknowledge holding a vote could take more than a year.

Latortue went straight to work Thursday, meeting with interim President Boniface Alexandre to discuss a Cabinet he wants to include retired army Chief of Staff Herard Abraham, in charge of security, and businessman and former Aristide Prime Minister Smarck Michel as planning minister.

Abraham supports recreating Haiti's once-disgraced army, a key demand of rebels who helped force Aristide from office on Feb. 29. Latortue said Aristide's disbanding of the army in 1995 may have been unconstitutional.

Disarmament will be the biggest challenge, and Latortue stressed the need for cooperation with international peacekeepers - led by 1,600 Marines and including nearly 1,000 French troops and police and soldiers from Chile and Canada.

Aristide had accused the last peacekeeping mission in Haiti - a U.S.-led force under U.N. auspices that remained until 2000 - of failing to disarm people and planting the seeds for the current crisis.

Many rebels, whose leaders include two convicted assassins, say they are using M-16 and M-14 assault rifles issued when they were in the army.

Both the rebels and Aristide supporters say they won't give up their weapons until their enemies do.

Aristide militants also refuse to recognize the new government, supporting Aristide's claims he was forced from power by the United States and France. His lawyer in Paris said Wednesday he was considering bringing charges against ambassadors of both countries.

U.S. Ambassador James Foley, speaking in a BBC interview broadcast Thursday, said Aristide "never once said that he didn't want to go."

"He never said: 'I think you are wrong. I think your assessment is wrong. I'm going to stay. I'm going to ride it out,"' Foley said. "It was all about his departure."

The 53-nation African Union and the 15-member Caribbean Community - which comprise nearly a third of U.N. member states -- have condemned the circumstances of Aristide's flight and called for the United Nations to investigate.

A once-popular slum priest, Aristide was elected on promises to champion the poor, but lost support as misery deepened and Haitians accused his government of corruption and attacks against his political opponents.

Latortue, 69, hasn't addressed Aristide's claims. Chosen by a seven-member Council of Sages, he has stressed his neutrality.

"I came here with my mind open to work with everyone in Haiti," he said. "I'm not a member of any political party."

Although Latortue has accepted the job of leading Haiti out of its latest crisis, he hasn't been officially sworn in. Outgoing Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, an Aristide appointee, has said he will ensure an orderly transition, but it wasn't clear when that would take place.

Under Aristide, the prime minister's position was largely ceremonial. But Latortue will be a powerbroker with the potential to smooth political divisions in forming a transitional government of former enemies from Aristide's Lavalas party and an opposition coalition that includes former coup-supporters and human rights activists.

Latortue spent much of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship, which ended in 1986, in exile. He became foreign minister in 1988 to President Leslie Manigat, who was toppled in one of 32 coups fomented by Haiti's army. His career with the United Nations is considered a boon as the country looks to a U.N. peacekeeping mission to take over from the Americans around June.

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