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Haiti's Expulsions

INCREASINGLY, it looks as though military intervention may be one of the few serious options left to the Clinton administration if it is to dislodge the military-backed rulers in Haiti and support the country's nascent efforts at democracy.

The latest signal of the junta's unwillingness to step down and allow for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide came July 11, when it announced that it was expelling human rights observers attached to the United Nations and the Organization of American States. From the halls of the OAS to the aisles of Air Force One over Europe, the operative description has been ``outrageous.'' UN envoy Dante Caputo, who has played a leading role in trying to negotiate Mr. Aristide's return, correctly called the Haitian government's move ``an insult to the international community.''

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The expulsion comes at a time of growing pressure from the international community, through increased sanctions and with the imminent arrival of 2,000 US Marines off of Haiti. Meanwhile, Washington is having trouble lining up safe-haven countries in the region for the thousands of Haitians who are fleeing in hastily built, dangerously overcrowded, poorly equipped wooden boats. For those who remain, each day is another monumental endurance test - in trying to outlast the abuses of police and the military, and also the deprivation made more grim by the sanctions.

Yet the military option also is fraught with pitfalls: It enjoys little support in the region; has little public backing in the US; has questionable support in Congress; and would further polarize an already badly divided Haitian society. Even Aristide resists the idea of military intervention.

As it tries to line up support for intervention, the US, along with other backers of democracy in Haiti, should consider one more intensive diplomatic effort, building on the Governors Island Accord that all parties signed last year. The likelihood of success may be relatively small. But the pressures on the junta are heavier today than a year ago. And the benefits, if the effort succeeds, could be great - particularly in building a government of reconciliation that countries in the region would be willing to support with peacekeeping troops. If such an effort fails, at least the international community will have gone the extra mile before resorting to ``diplomacy by other means.''

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