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Posted Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Haiti Preval rejects former totalitarian dictator Duvalier's apology for 'wrongs,' wants him to face the bar of justice
By Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier must face justice regardless of whether his countrymen forgive him for his misdeeds, Haitian President Rene Preval said on Tuesday.

Preval was responding to a weekend plea for forgiveness from the exiled former president, whose regime is believed to have killed thousands of Haitians and embezzled millions of dollars in public funds.

Preval said the decision whether to forgive Duvalier lies with the Haitian people, who suffered under his totalitarian regime. But he said the current administration would continue legal proceedings to recover government funds from Duvalier, who has lived in France since his ouster in 1986.

"It is true, he has asked for forgiveness. But at the request of my presidency, Jean-Claude Duvalier's assets have once again been frozen," Preval told a news conference shortly before leaving Port-au-Prince on Tuesday to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New-York.

"We are putting in place what is needed so that Duvalier's trial may begin in order to recover state funds he has misappropriated," said Preval. "Demand for forgiveness is one thing but justice is another."

The United Nations and World Bank launched an initiative last week to make it easier for governments in developing countries to recover stolen assets stashed in rich countries by corrupt leaders. World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the bank was in the early stages of working with Haiti to recover funds stolen by Duvalier.

In a taped statement broadcast on local radio stations, Duvalier acknowledged his government was responsible for wrong-doing.

"During my presidential term, my government caused physical, moral or economic prejudice to people," Duvalier said from exile in Paris. "I solemnly take the historic responsibility to ask the Haitian people to forgive me."


His father, Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier, seized power in 1957 and bequeathed it to his son on his deathbed in 1971.

The Duvaliers governed with an iron fist and a gangster militia known as the Tontons Macoutes, exercising life-or-death power over the population until Baby Doc fled to France amid a popular uprising in 1986.

Duvalier urged his followers in the National Unity Party to mobilize, and vowed to return to assume a political role in his impoverished homeland.

Several politicians and human rights activists said Duvalier should be tried for atrocities.

"It is unacceptable that Duvalier is trying to make a comeback as if the population had to forget the awful crimes he had committed in this country," said human rights activist Jean-Claude Bajeux. "The Haitian people won't buy that."

The leader of the Fusion party, Victor Benoit, said Duvalier has a right to return if he agrees to face justice.

"Jean-Claude Duvalier is talking about national reconciliation, but that is exactly what his father was saying while preparing to massacre scores of innocent citizens," Benoit said. "And the same atrocities continued under his son, who is presenting himself as the country's next savior."

But others said Haiti was more secure during the Duvaliers' reign.

"Under the Duvaliers, you could sleep in the streets or on the gallery of your house if you were not fighting the government," said Joanel Jean-Jacques, a 64-year-old man sitting outside his home in the Delmas district.

"My family and I felt secure and we were working and peacefully earning our life," he said. "Now the majority of the population can't even eat once a day."

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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