As Haiti's ousted president prepared for talks in New York with the army commander who overthrew him, diplomats predicted on Saturday that the meeting would quickly disclose whether the country's military was willing to relinquish power in Haiti.
The talks on Sunday between the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president, and Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras are to focus on issues like forming a new government and the mandate of an international police force to be sent to the country to guard against human rights violations. It is the first meeting between the two enemies since September 1991, when a military coup forced Aristide into exile.In a note sent on Wednesday to Dante Caputo, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, Cedras signaled his willingness to meet with Aristide and spoke of the need to return Haiti "quickly and viably to the concert of nations." But diplomats and aides to Aristide say that given the record of abrupt reversals that have repeatedly frustrated negotiations to restore democracy in Haiti, nothing could be taken for granted.
"My hope would be that this meeting would result in an agreement for the rapid return of Aristide," said Michael D. Barnes, an adviser to the Haitian president. "I don't quite know what the hope of the military is in attending these meetings, but if we were to go by their past actions we could not be altogether optimistic."
Citing security concerns, mediators changed the venue of the talks from the United Nations to Governor's Island, a secluded spot off the southern tip of Manhattan whose access is controlled by the U.S. Coast Guard. New York has a large population of Haitian immigrants, many of whom are strong supporters of the deposed president.
Aristide has demanded that Cedras and other military leaders step down immediately. Diplomats said military leaders were feeling the pressure of sanctions imposed by the United Nations.