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U.S. Agents May Launch Investigations in Bahamas

April 26, 1994

MIAMI (AP) _ U.S. agents would be assigned to the Bahamas to investigate alien-smuggling missions under a written agreement awaiting the endorsement of both governments, The Associated Press has learned.

The arrival of 411 Haitians in Florida last week and two mass drownings of Haitian refugees in February have increased pressure on both countries to address the smuggling of human cargo.

″There have been active discussions about detailing federal law enforcement agents to assist with efforts to attack alien smuggling at its source - in the Bahamas,″ a U.S. official knowledgeable about the talks said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol would be diverted from south Florida duties to work in the Bahamas for 60 to 90 days under the agreement, which the source said could be announced soon.

Idris Reid, permanent secretary for foreign affairs in the Bahamas, said Tuesday he was not aware of any discussions. But Reid added: ″The relationship between the Bahamas and the United States is extremely high at all levels. Whatever they are, we cooperate fully together.″

The United States has routinely returned thousands of Haitians who have fled their homeland since an army coup overthrew the country’s president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991. The government has said the Haitians were fleeing economic hardship, not political persecution, and therefore were not eligible for political asylum.

The 411 Haitians who arrived in Florida last week were not turned back, and they government said they represented a special case. The crowded conditions of their 65-foot boat, the vessel’s lack of safety equipment and the poor physical condition of many of the refugees were cited as among the reasons they were allowed to stay.

Details of how the passengers arranged their journey to the United States have not been disclosed, but smuggling is suspected.

″We do continue to get indications that we are working with a smuggling operation,″ INS district spokesman Lemar Wooley said Tuesday. ″I don’t know where it is all going to lead at this point obviously because it’s an ongoing investigation.″

Roseann Micallef of Church World Service said an interview with one refugee indicated the group left Haiti from the country’s north coast, stopped briefly in the Bahamas, then headed to Florida.

In other recent cases:

-Federal prosecutors charged a Boynton Beach boat captain with criminal negligence after four Haitians drowned when they were allegedly forced off a 31-foot boat in chest-deep water on Feb. 8.

-As many as 34 Haitians were believed to have died after their 23-foot boat capsized in rough seas off the Bahamian island of Abaco on Feb. 20.

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