MAL PASO, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
AS the United Nations prepares to extend the fuel embargo against Haiti to pressure that country's Army to yield power, half the Dominican Army is massed along the rugged border between the two island nations, chasing gasoline smugglers and bracing for a feared rush of Haitian refugees into the Dominican Republic.
Foot soldiers patrol the paths and donkey trails snaking across the 200-mile border that divides the two countries. Others stop traffic at checkpoints on the highways leading to the four official border crossings, looking for smugglers of fuel, which is prohibited by the embargo.
Haitians, hit hard by a series of economic sanctions since their Army overthrew elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991, have depended on trade at the border for food and consumer goods. The pressure there is bound to grow if the UN broaden the fuel embargo to everything but food and medicine.
Such a measure, intended to pressure Haiti's Army even further, is expected this week, and will probably prompt more opposition to the embargo in the Dominican Republic.
``If there is a total blockade, we run the risk of a stampede of hungry people from Haiti,'' Maj. Gen. Ivan Aquiles Hernandez Oleaga, the Dominican Army commander, said at Army headquarters in Santo Domingo.
The United States, Canada, Venezuela, and France planned to issue a statement this week asking the Security Council to adopt more comprehensive trade sanctions against Haiti's military authorities and their supporters. These would include a ban on trade, restrictions on assets and visas, and a ban on air traffic except regularly scheduled passenger and humanitarian flights.
Truckloads of gas and diesel roared across the Mal Paso crossing shortly after the fuel embargo was imposed in October, but the Army commander in the area said the amount of fuel slipping through these days is insignificant. In New York, a senior UN official confirmed that the Dominicans are enforcing the existing embargo.
Still, opposition to the embargo is widespread in the Dominican Republic. Dominican politicians appear universally opposed to unconditional international support for Aristide.