JOHANNESBURG: South African President Thabo Mbeki plans to help end political violence in Haiti even after his visit to mark the Caribbean state's bicentenary descended into what opponents branded a foreign policy fiasco. Mbeki's trip to the poorest country in the Americas descended into a public relations disaster after his security helicopter was fired on and the Haitian opposition objected to a South African navy ship being deployed off the coast. But Mbeki's spokesman Bheki Khumalo said Mbeki would offer whatever help South Africa could give to assist mediation between Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his opponents, though he did not specify what that would be.
South Africa's SAFM state radio said Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had stayed on in Haiti after Mbeki's departure to aid mediation, although Khumalo said Caribbean bloc Caricom would still play the lead role in mediation efforts. "There is a process in Haiti which is led by the Caricom group... They are holding discussions and trying to resolve the Haitian problems," Khumalo told SAFM. "But he (Mbeki) will give them any help that they actually require." Gunfights and violent anti-Aristide protests marred January 1 celebrations marking 200 years since African slaves declared Haiti as the world's first black-led republic, overthrowing their French masters. Thousands of opposition supporters have demonstrated daily since September against Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest elected in 1990, deposed by the army and returned with US and United Nations backing three years later.
Mbeki's visit, appearing to give Aristide the stamp of approval, drew criticism from Mbeki's opponents at home, many of whom are already hauling him over the coals for failing to act decisively to end the crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe. "The new year has begun for President Mbeki as the old year ended for him: with a foreign policy fiasco all of his own making," Tony Leon, leader of the main parliamentary opposition Democratic Alliance, said in a statement yesterday. http://www.newsday.co.tt/stories.php?article_id=12342