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Aristide on long road home to Haiti Accord prompts praise, doubts


TABARRE, Haiti -- Most Haitians yesterday did not know of the U.N.-brokered peace agreement signed Saturday night by exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Radio and television stations on their impoverished island-nation do not broadcast on Sundays.

Told of the agreement, one of Father Aristide's neighbors said: "I do not know if it's true or wrong what you've told me. But since I have no other hope besides God, I have no choice but to stay and wait for him."

The diplomatic agreement ending a 21-month political crisis came after six days of negotiations in New York between Father Aristide and the man who overthrew him on Sept. 30, 1991, army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

The accord starts a phased process in which foreign aid would be channeled to the hemisphere's poorest nation, the embargo lifted, the military command changed and democracy brought back. If the transition is unobstructed, Father Aristide should be back and in office by Oct. 30.

In a statement issued by the White House yesterday, President Clinton said that the United States would back the peace agreement "to the fullest."

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher also predicted yesterday that fewer than 1,000 U.S. troops would be needed to keep the peace in Haiti while Father Aristide is restored to power.

Mr. Clinton telephoned congratulations to Father Aristide earlier yesterday and hailed the peace accord as a "historic moment for the Haitian people, for the hemisphere and for the principle of democratic rule."

Before international trade sanctions can be lifted on Haiti -- restrictions were put in place after the coup to pressure for Father Aristide's return -- Father Aristide must name a prime minister who will govern Haiti until he returns.

The front-runner for the post is Robert Malval, a wealthy Haitian of Lebanese descent who has advised Father Aristide since the priest opened an orphanage for street children in 1988.

Mr. Malval, who owns a publishing company, is viewed as a pragmatist with a left-of-center political ideology, but he is a political novice.

Father Aristide never returned home after he was he was arrested and sent into exile by General Cedras.

The priest's modern, two-story home in this suburb of the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, has been empty since then and is only a shell of what it once was.

The white gate that opens to his property has rusted shut, the driveway is a slippery bed of tree needles and his house has been looted completely. Even the kitchen sink is missing.

The only decor is a couple of dead potted plants. Under a stack of government papers was a sample ballot from the 1990 election Father Aristide won in landslide.

"No one has come to take care of the home since the coup," Father Aristide's neighbor said while walking into a second-floor bedroom covered in black soot.

"Soldiers came here the Sunday after the coup. They came in the afternoon. They're the ones that started the fire," the neighbor said.

Father Aristide's bedroom is littered with papers ranging from a presidential document on Haiti's environment to personal letters. In one corner of the sun-drenched room is a framed portrait of Aristide wearing the presidential sash. The glass frame is shattered and covered in dust.

Other Tabarre residents say criminals have entered the house -- which has a small rooftop swimming pool -- since the army raid to steal what they can.

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