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Published: Thursday, 3/4/2004

Toward stabilization in Haiti

SO FAR, so good in Haiti. When President Jean-Bertrand Aristide bailed out and accepted exile in Africa, the prospects of better government and economic improvement improved for the people of that tormented country.

But there is more to do. A first contingent of troops from America, which will lead an international peacemaking force authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution, will be joined by security forces from Canada, France, and neighboring Caribbean nations.

The task of restoring order will not be easy. Armed gangs roam the country. Some are Aristide supporters; some, former Aristide forces who switched over to the opposition before he left; some are former Haitian army personnel, demobilized with U.S. help in 1994 to enable Aristide's return to the presidency. Most are simply bandits and looters, taking advantage of the collapse of law and order.

The first step will then be to put in place a new, democratically elected government.

The head of Haiti's highest court, Bon<0x00AD>iface Alexandre, is currently acting as pres<0x00AD>ident in accordance with the country's con<0x00AD>stitution, but that is only a temporary solu<0x00AD>tion to the problem of good government in Haiti.

What will be needed once peace and order are restored are credible elections. It makes sense to let former President Aristide, who resigned before he left, participate as a candidate. Otherwise, he will remain outside the country, organizing opposition to whoever is elected, claiming that he is still the legitimate president of Haiti.

It is ironic that Mr. Aristide is currently in exile in the Central African Republic, reportedly awaiting an invitation from South Africa to come there. The C.A.R. sent its own elected president, Ange-Felix Patasse, into exile in a military coup last year.

Haiti should be better off with Mr. Aristide gone. But the small impoverished land will require considerable attention and resources to put it on the road to good political and economic health. It should shame the region, the United States, and Haiti's former colonizer, France, that the country has not received the attention it needs until now.

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