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Influential U.S. and Haitian politicians object to U.S. troops

December 24, 1997

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ They are building bridges, digging wells, renovating schools, handing out food and delivering babies. Still, some U.S. and Haitian politicians object to the last foreign troops in Haiti, fearing they could get involved if its latest crisis turns violent.

Those working in the field disagree.

``Haitians feel secure knowing that U.S. soldiers are on the ground,″ said army Lt. Col. Michael Hogan, chief of staff of the 500-member U.S. Support Group.

On Dec. 5, days after U.N. peacekeepers ended a three-year military intervention begun by the United States, President Clinton extended the Support Group’s mandate _ from Dec. 31, 1997, to Dec. 31, 1998.

Clinton made the move over objections from Republican Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Helms says he saw little to be gained and much risk in leaving a relatively small number of troops ``hoping to keep a lid on unstable security conditions, to prop up an incompetent government and to salvage a totally flawed policy.″

Clinton, however, emphasized that it was not a military operation.

``We have no contingency plans to defend Haitians,″ Army Col. Raymond Spirlet said in Haiti.

``For the Haitian government, the results are positive, which is why we requested the extension,″ Haitian Foreign Minister Fritz Longchamps said after Clinton’s announcement.

But 25 Haitian legislators, backed by leftist grassroots organizations, have been calling for a total ``de-occupation.″ They allege that the United States wants to force Haiti to liberalize its economy _ and also stir up bad feelings by harking back to the 1915-34 American occupation.

Despite this anti-U.S. sentiment, they support former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who U.S. troops returned to power in a 1994 invasion that disbanded the murderous military regime that ousted him.

On Tuesday, Clinton gave a reprieve to some 40,000 Haitians who fled to the United States and faced deportation.

Many Haitians believe the continued presence of U.S. troops signals growing concern that Haitians might unravel a U.S. foreign policy success.

Haitian legislators on Tuesday rejected the latest candidate for premier, deepening a crisis that has left the country without a government since June. Legislators from former Premier Rosny Smarth’s party say they will not nominate a new premier until a power struggle is resolved over elections allegedly rigged to favor Aristide partisans.

President Rene Preval, Aristide’s handpicked successor, says he has no power to interfere in the electoral process.

``The United States has to protect its investment. ... The troops are a tacit guarantee that, if it is imperative, many more will enter on the scene,″ former Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul said.

Meanwhile, some 50 engineers go on building roads and bridges, digging wells, and distributing food and clothing. And about 100 medics care for the swelling numbers of Haiti’s poor.

``They overwhelm me with their gratitude,″ said Air Force Lt. Col. Bonnie Mertely, a nurse.

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