Haitian Archbishop Appeals to Government to Stave Off a Civil War

Prime Minister Warns of Coup; Dominican Republic Closes Its Border

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, FEB. 17, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The president of the Haitian episcopate appealed to the country’s rulers to act prudently to keep the Caribbean nation from sliding into civil war.

Archbishop Hubert Constant of Cap-Haitien made that appeal today, according to report by the Missionary Service News Agency.

The appeal made no explicit mention made of an eventual exit from the scene of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, against whom the Democratic Opposition has been protesting peacefully for days. Meanwhile, armed groups have risen in rebellion in various locations.

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said his country was in the throes of a coup and appealed for international help, the Associated Press reported. He made his plea a day after former soldiers joined the rebellion, seizing the key central city of Hinche, burning the police station and freeing prisoners.

«It is not the place of the Church to say which actions should be undertaken,» Archbishop Constant said. «But something must urgently be done to stop the violence.» He added: «The bloodshed has already begun.»

The appeal also contains an exhortation to all Haitians «to respect the life of each human being, the moral integrity of the people, everyone’s right to liberty, true information, and the constitutional right to express themselves and demonstrate in a respectful and peaceful manner.»

The document endorsed by the episcopate expresses serious concern over the humanitarian situation. «The suffering of the population is intolerable, the insecurity omnipresent,» the document states.

The nation’s bishops call on the parties in conflict «to clear off the public roads to allow charity organizations to bring humanitarian aid to the people who have been injured or are in difficulty.»

More than 50 people have already died since the start of the uprising against President Aristide. In the two centuries since independence, Haiti has endured some 30 coups d’état.

The deteriorating situation has led the authorities of the neighboring Dominican Republic to close the border. Aristide has signaled his intention to stay in power until February 2006, when his term expires.

The rebels accuse the president of corruption, rigging of elections, and human rights violations. But the Democratic Opposition to Aristide rejects the use of arms to overthrow the government.

Auxiliary Bishop Pierre Dumas of Port-au-Prince told Vatican Radio that the rebels of the north do not work with the Democratic Opposition.

France is considering sending an international peace force to Haiti. Food is already lacking in northern Haiti, and there is fear of epidemics.

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