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12 août 2004

CAPE TOWN (AP)—Ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s South African hosts continue to recognize him as Haiti’s legitimate leader, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Thursday.

Responding to opposition questions, Dlamini-Zuma told Parliament that Aristide and his family haven’t applied for permanent asylum here but were being treated as « foreign distinguished guests of the state, » the South African Press Association reported.

Aristide fled HaitiFeb. 29 as rebels approached the capital. South Africa agreed to provide him temporary sanctuary upon the request of the 15-member Caribbean Community.

Aristide insists he is still Haiti’s democratically elected president and has vowed to return - a position supported by South Africa despite the establishment of a U.S.-backed interim government in the Caribbean nation and fresh elections scheduled for next year.

« The government recognizes President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the legitimately elected president of Haiti, » Dlamini-Zuma was quoted as saying Thursday.

The offer to host Aristide has brought criticism from the political opposition here, which has protested the cost to South African taxpayers. But the government says it has a responsibility to contribute to international efforts to bring stability to Haiti.

« The financial upkeep of President Aristide and his family will be done in accordance with the standards and procedures laid down for a Cabinet minister in South Africa, » Dlamini-Zuma said, according to SAPA.

Asked whether the government had asked France or the U.S. to help cover the cost of Aristide’s stay, she said South Africa had acceded to a request from CARICOM and « did not think it appropriate to ask somebody else to pay. »

Aristide claims he was overthrown by the U.S., a charge Washington denies.

He was flown on a U.S. jet to Central African Republic, where he spent his first weeks in exile. He later flew back to the Caribbean with his wife to be reunited with their two young daughters in Jamaica.

Aristide’s return angered Haiti’s interim government, which worried that his presence would further destabilize Haiti, just 160 kilometers east of Jamaica.

He arrived in South AfricaMay 31, where he has kept a low profile. He’s scheduled to pay a courtesy call on former South African President Nelson Mandela Friday.

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