PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Increased U.S. pressure paid off Sunday as diplomatic sources said that Haitian army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and the army chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, will resign today, clearing the way for exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return without major distraction.
Cedras and Biamby are required by an agreement signed last month to give up their posts no later than Saturday, the expected date of Aristide's arrival. But U.S. officials pressed the two relentlessly to give up power immediately and to accept exile even though the agreement does not require either man to leave Haiti.
To make sure the message was clear, Cedras was told during a Sunday afternoon meeting with Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, the commander of U.S. troops here, that he and Biamby should retire before the Saturday deadline and get out of the country.
"Monday would be good, but no later than Wednesday," is the way one U.S. military source described the gist of Shelton's remarks to Cedras.
The military leader then relented, a diplomat said. "The decision was made after the meeting with Shelton. It's a good thing," the diplomat said.
In addition to Cedras and Biamby, U.S. officials said they want nearly all of the Haitian military high command to leave office, the only exception being Brig. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval, who will be given temporary command of the army.
The new high command, which will also serve on an interim basis, will be composed of lower-ranking colonels and lieutenant colonels thought to have little personal allegiance to the departing officers and who were not directly involved in the Sept. 30, 1991, coup that drove Aristide from office.
Throughout the day Sunday, there was confusion over when Cedras and Biamby actually were expected to leave office.
Various sources claiming to be close to Cedras gave varying information about the exact timing of the two generals' resignations.
Some sources said the two men will step down this morning; others said with equal confidence that the two will submit resignations Tuesday to be effective Wednesday.
Another simply said Sunday that "it will take place within the next 48 hours."
And Defense Secretary William J. Perry told a television interviewer Sunday, "I believe he (Cedras) will leave and soon."
Earlier in the day, White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," said he could not confirm reports that Cedras will resign today. "I can't confirm that at this point, but, clearly, we have this mission on track right now," he said.
"It is a stable situation. There's calm that's been restored to the country. President Aristide is prepared to return. We have the Parliament in place. I think in a matter of days we will see democracy restored to Haiti, and that was the fundamental goal of the President's policy with regards to that area," he said.
Also expected to give up office is Emile Jonassaint, the military's puppet civilian president, who has also resisted leaving the Presidential Palace. "He will go either voluntarily or by being physically prevented from going to his office," one source said.
Wednesday had been the choice of most experts for the end of the brutal and corrupt military rule because that is the day Cedras' appointment as army commander expires.
"He is still holding out for Wednesday," a Cedras associate had said just before Shelton arrived at Cedras' hillside home overlooking Port-au-Prince. "He wants to claim he served his term, didn't leave under (U.S.) pressure. He also wants a dignified ceremony."
Two motives impelled U.S. officials to widen the interval between the Cedras-Biamby departures and Aristide's return, expected Saturday afternoon.
"We want the last rallying point of anti-Aristide forces out of here," one U.S. official said. "We want them to see that they have no hope, that they lost and that their leaders have given up and left."
Officials also want time to prepare for Aristide and the large contingent of foreign officials, diplomats and other public figures expected here for his return.
"We have a lot to do," one U.S. official said, "and we need time to prepare for (Aristide's) arrival."
One U.S. source said Sunday that the Administration is considering having Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other officials accompany Aristide when he returns to Haiti.
Although most of the attention has been on Cedras, the Americans also worked hard to the last minute to get an early resignation from Biamby, who is considered to have more loyalty among the 7,000 Haitian soldiers.
Both men, along with Port-au-Prince Police Chief Michel-Joseph Francois, were required to step down by the agreement hammered out by a mission led by former President Jimmy Carter last month. Francois quit last week and drove into exile in the neighboring Dominican Republic.
One source said that while Biamby will formally resign with Cedras, the chief of staff turned in his letter of resignation Saturday.