PRECEDE Port-au-Prince Clinton Calls for Release of Miami-Bound Haitian Refugee
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton demanded today that the Haitian government immediately release a military deserter who had been granted political refugee status by the United States.
Airport guards in Port-au-Prince arrested the man on Thursday, hauling him away from U.S. Embassy escorts who had planned to put him on a flight to Miami.
″I’m very upset about what happened in Haiti,″ Clinton told a group of Florida reporters at a meeting at the White House.
″The man was returned by error, frankly,″ Clinton said. ″This is a very serious thing. We believe strongly that the Haitian government should release him so that he can be brought back here.″
He said he is meeting with foreign policy advisers ″to see what our options are.″
Clinton also said he is committed to restoring democracy in Haiti.
″I think you will see this administration taking a more active role,″ he said, emphasizing that the United States would work in concert with the Organization of American States and the United Nations.
″The people who have power now have to realize that the people in Haiti voted in overwhelming numbers for a democratic government,″ Clinton said. ″The United States will become increasingly insistent that democracy be restored.″
U.S. officials have been pressing Haiti the past two days to release the military deserter. Refugee rights activists and diplomats identified him as William Corascelan, in his 20s. He deserted from the navy, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
According to officials at the Port-au-Prince office of the U.S.-based National Coalition for Haitian Refugees, Corascelan was being held Friday at the army-run National Penitentiary.
Coalition officials said his arrest was ordered by the army commander-in- chief, Gen. Raoul Cedras, in a letter to the airport’s military security chief, Maj. Marc Valme.
The State Department said it saw the case as a test of the Haitian regime’s willingness to cooperate on human rights matters.
″We are shocked at the arrest, which we hope and expect will be speedily rectified,″ State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. ″We’ve protested in the strongest possible terms at high levels in Haiti.″
It was the first such incident to be reported since the U.S. Embassy began accepting refugee applications from Haitians on Haitian territory. The program was initiated 13 months ago as part of an effort to stem the flow of Haitian boat people toward the United States.
The refugee was accompanied by officials from the U.S. Embassy’s refugee and migration affairs office when he was detained. He had recently been granted political refugee status by the office.
Refugee rights activists criticize the current U.S. policy of intercepting and returning all boat people. They contend that political refugees run the risk of exposure by being required to apply for U.S. asylum while in Haiti.
But Boucher said the overwhelming majority of Haitians who have been approved for refugee status under the in-country processing program have been allowed to leave Haiti for the United States without incident.
Boucher said 3,380 Haitians have been interviewed after completing the preliminary application. Of these, 414 have been approved and 243 have arrived in the United States, he said.
Since the U.S. Embassy opened its refugee office in downtown Port-au-Prince in January, an average of 100 Haitians have arrived daily to petition for political refugee status.
They claim to be followers of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide who were targeted for repression after a bloody September 1991 coup, in which the rightist army ousted Aristide.