PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — After a whirlwind two-day tour of Haiti that included an emotional appearance by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on the streets of the capital, President Clinton's national security adviser said Thursday that there is no specific timetable for withdrawing the U.S. military intervention force from Haiti.
The United States will begin "drawing down" its military presence before Christmas, National Security Adviser Anthony Lake told reporters, but he said no target date has been set for withdrawing the remaining 16,000 of the 20,000 troops sent to restore democracy in Haiti more than six weeks ago.
"There's a long way to go," declared an otherwise upbeat Lake at a pre-departure news conference at which he specifically stressed as urgent priorities the creation of a new Haitian judicial system and the staging of crucial parliamentary elections.
In a battery of meetings throughout the day, Lake urged Aristide and dozens of other Haitian political leaders to hold the polls "sooner rather than later," partly to speed the pace of the U.S. troop withdrawal, which the Clinton Administration has vowed will take place only after the elections.
The polls to replace two-thirds of the 27-member Haitian Senate and all 83 seats in the Chamber of Deputies originally were scheduled for December, but U.S. officials said they now are not likely to be held until February or March at the earliest.
"There will be a drawdown before Christmas," Lake declared in a clear message to the U.S. troops, whose morale has been slumping, particularly after Clinton visited U.S. troops in Kuwait recently and not the men and women in Haiti. Lake said he "desperately" wants to arrange a presidential visit to Haiti in the coming weeks despite Clinton's "extremely difficult" schedule.
He said Clinton has yet to decide whether to accept Aristide's invitation, delivered to Lake over dinner Wednesday night, for Clinton to visit. Nor has the President finalized dates for the earliest troop withdrawals, Lake said.
Dismissing a statement made earlier Thursday by Lt. Gen. Hugh Shelton, commander of U.S. forces here, who said 9,000 of the troops would be home by Christmas, Lake told reporters: "We have no specific numbers. The thinking is that as forces complete specific missions, we will draw them down. . . . But we will make these decisions on the basis of practicality."
Listing matters of practicality, Lake described the Haiti mission as a four-part effort to shore up the nation's newfound security with a new police department that the United States is financing, recruiting and training; establish a democracy--"which is more than simply the holding of elections"; spread the benefits of democracy to the Haitian masses through U.S.-funded jobs programs and urban development, and ultimately turn the mission over to the United Nations.
"We already now have the beginning of the U.N. army," Lake said of the Bangladeshi infantry battalion and several hundred troops from Caribbean nations that are serving under U.S. command until the United Nations takes over. "We would hope that handoff would take place in the early months of 1995."
Lake expressed hope that the Haitian Parliament will approve Aristide's selection for prime minister, Smarck Michel, within a few days, when Michel will announce his new Cabinet. Asked whether he felt Aristide and the Parliament were moving fast enough, Lake, who has served on U.S. presidential transition teams, said: "Rather than doing it quick, you do it right. And I think this is right."
Lake accompanied Aristide on a visit Thursday to Cite Soleil, a sprawling Port-au-Prince slum, where, as scores of U.S. combat troops sealed off roads and took positions on rooftops nearby, Aristide waved, beamed and shouted to an exultant throng, "We have security! We can go where we want to go."
Addressing the crowd of about 2,000, Lake praised the remnants of the Haitian military as an emerging new force "that wants to progress. We're going to give them a chance," Lake declared.
The audience, illustrating the depth of anger and hate they bear after three years of brutal military rule, shouted, "No! No! We don't want them! We don't want that!" adding that they wanted military officers arrested instead.
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