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US Signals Stronger Sanctions Against Military Regime in Haiti

The government in Port-Au-Prince frustrates the Clinton administration by refusing a deal to bring the elected president back to power

THE United States plans to impose unilateral sanctions this week on Haiti, whose military rulers recently rejected a plan to return ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, State Department officials say.

Haiti's de facto government, headed by Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, frustrated US and United Nations negotiators May 24 by summarily rejecting a deal that would have restored the Rev. Aristide to power while providing large-scale foreign aid and an international police force to ensure a smooth transition.

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The US plans to ask a General Assembly meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Managua, Nicaragua, on June 6 to punish the Haitian military regime with tougher sanctions, US officials say.

But a State Department source says, "We will probably have some unilateral sanctions between now and then."

Another State Department official says the sanctions will consist of freezing US assets belonging to high-level supporters of the Haitian regime and revoking their visas. President Clinton threatened last week to take such steps, but Haitian officials - who were apparently buoyed by the US failure to take military action in Bosnia - publicly expressed their skepticism that the US would follow through.

In the meantime, the Haitian police and civilian "attaches" apparently have stepped up threats, arrests, and beatings of Haitians suspected of supporting Aristide, according to an Amnesty International report released May 13.

Not even the presence of more than 100 international human-rights monitors has slowed the repression, Amnesty International reports. The security forces have begun to show contempt for these monitors and to simply arrest people by night and beat them far from the police stations.

Until now, the main international weapon against the military regime in Port-Au-Prince have been a boycott organized by the OAS. But the boycott has been largely ineffective because European countries has not enforced it. If the flow of oil and other goods transported by European ships could be stopped, "that would be serious," an OAS official says.

Talks were to begin in December in the UN Security Council on blocking all oil and weapons imports but they were put on the back-burner after the military regime started to negotiate, says a State Department official.

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Sen. Claiborne Pell (D) of Rhode Island, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, remarks bitterly that "we have been far more effective at stopping refugees fleeing Haiti than enforcing the embargo." Senator Pell adds, "It is time to put some action behind our words."

Western officials appear confident that imposing sanctions will do just that by strengthening the hand of negotiators Dante Caputo, representing the UN and OAS, and Lawrence Pezzullo, the special US envoy.

An OAS official said that the military regime's rejection of last week's deal "showed they were trying to wait the international community out." He added, "The sanctions which will be announced by the US will be the sort to focus their attention on finding a solution quickly."

The State Department official says that the sanctions fall in line with a foreign policy doctrine enunciated last week by Peter Tarnoff, the undersecretary of state for policy. "Tarnoff said the US is looking at new nonviolent ways to deal with problems, using the advice and consent of allies and international organizations," the official says. "If it succeeds, we've trod a new course and found a better way to deal with international crises."

But many experts doubt the policy will work. Since 1957, when Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier began a reign of terror in this country, violence alone has ousted Haiti's dictators. In 1986, for example, Duvalier's successor - Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier - fled to luxurious exile in France only after protesters had cut all major roads with burning tires, stones, and tree limbs.

Many experts stress that, short of a revolution in the streets, the Port-Au-Prince regime will not budge. Not even a blockade of Haiti - which would be the logical next step - may work, some Haiti-watchers caution.

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