(IPS) UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations says it is willing to investigate the ouster of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, provided the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) makes a formal request -- a move that U.S. and French officials are actively discouraging, say diplomats here.
The 15-member CARICOM, of which Haiti is a full member, last week publicly called for a UN probe into what Aristide says was his "kidnapping" by U.S. forces. But it has stopped short of making a formal demand to the world body.
"The CARICOM call for a UN investigation was in their statement," UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard said Wednesday, "but it has not been communicated to us formally. Once that happens, we will react."
According to diplomatic sources here, who did not want to be quoted or identified, both the United States and France, two permanent members of the UN Security Council, have pressed Caribbean officials to desist from formally requesting a UN probe or bringing the issue before the Council.
Eckhard said Aristide spoke twice to Secretary-General Kofi Annan prior to his departure from Haiti on Feb. 29.
The embattled president left the country as a heavily armed group of former soldiers, police officers and gunmen who had swept across the northern half of the nation moved closer to the capital Port-Au-Prince. Aristide says U.S. officials made him sign a letter of resignation before loading him into a plane for an undisclosed destination.
The flight landed in the Central African Republic, where Aristide has stayed since, reportedly guarded by 60 French soldiers.
Washington denies that version of events, saying the president willingly boarded the flight out of Haiti.
Eckhard refused to provide any details of the private conversations between the president and UN leader, adding, "the secretary-general has not been involved in any discussions of Aristide's place of exile."
"The whole thing is a disgrace," says Jim Paul of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, which closely monitors political developments at the United Nations.
Paul, who described Aristide's ouster as a "coup" staged by the United States and France, said both countries would do everything within their means to block any moves to bring the issue before the 15-member Security Council.
Britain, he said, would surely go along with the United States and France. The other two permanent members of the Security Council -- China and Russia -- will concede to the United States because the Caribbean is within "America's sphere of influence," he added.
"The United Nations should launch a full-scale investigation of the coup in Haiti," Paul told IPS. "There are a number of issues to be addressed as to what happened in Haiti and when it happened."
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday, Annan said, "I don't think anyone in the organization I work for, or I personally, would support a coup d'etat."
"I think if you look around the world, coups d'etats have been condemned all around. An organization like the African Union, in fact, has voted that they will never admit someone who comes to power through a coup d'etat into their summits," he added.
Annan also said he has heard statements made by Aristide and U.S. officials about the details of the Haitian leader's departure.
"I have to work on the basis of the Council resolution," he added, saying that Council members acted on the basis of a letter of resignation from Aristide.
Hours after the president's flight, the Security Council not only gave its blessings for a new government in Haiti, but also authorised a multinational armed force to work in the country for up to three months, to be followed by a UN peacekeeping force.
That current force is being led by U.S. Marines, along with French, Chilean and Canadian soldiers.
In its statement, CARICOM questioned the speed with which the Security Council authorised the troops, after refusing to send soldiers in response to Aristide's call for help just days before he fled Haiti.
South Africa continues to back the Caribbean nations' demand for an investigation.
"The suggestion that President Aristide may have been forced out of office, if true, will have serious consequences and ramifications for the respect of the rule of law and democracy the world over," said South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in a statement.
A three-member South African delegation is currently in the Central African Republic meeting with Aristide.
Paul said a probe would have to examine two kinds of evidence. First, the "solid evidence" of the U.S. role in destabilising Haiti over the last 10 years, by cutting off loans and chopping UN programs.
Second, there are statements made by U.S. officials at meetings of the Organization of American States (OAS) denouncing Haiti. "They did not like Aristide and wanted a regime change in Haiti. It is all on public record," he added.
Paul said the only course of action at the United Nations would be for the 191-member General Assembly to take up the issue.
By a coincidence, he said, the current president of the Assembly, Julian Robert Hunte, is the foreign minister of Caribbean nation Saint Lucia.
Also on Wednesday, two of Aristide's lawyers, Brian Concannon and Ira Kurzban, said they were preparing a kidnapping case against the United States and France.
Both lawyers are invoking the Multilateral Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons.
The lawyers are also filing court papers against Secretary of State Colin Powell because Aristide's wife Mildred is a U.S. citizen.
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