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Posted September 7, 2006
UK Medical Journal Lancet Investigating Author of Haiti Study
By STEVENSON JACOBS, Associated Press Writer  

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Sept. 7, 2006(AP) - The British medical journal The Lancet said Thursday it is investigating an alleged conflict of interest by an author of a report in the current issue that claims 8,000 people were slain under Haiti's interim government.

A critic of the study accused one of the report's authors of being a supporter of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose ouster following a violent uprising led to the installation of the U.S.-backed interim government that ran the country from 2004 to 2006.

Astrid James, a deputy editor of The Lancet, said the journal is investigating the allegations "as quickly as we can," but still stands by the report, which also said up to 35,000 women were sexually abused while the interim government ruled the troubled Caribbean nation.

"We're obviously concerned by what we've heard and we're conducting our investigation and we have asked for more information from the authors," James said from the journal's London headquarters.

The journal took the action after learning that Athena Kolbe, one of two U.S. authors of the report, had volunteered in 1995 at an orphanage founded by Aristide and has written articles in various newspapers in support of Aristide while he was president and after.

Kolbe, a researcher at Wayne State University in Detroit, denied any conflict.

"There is no bias whatsoever," she said. "We did absolutely nothing wrong."

The report blamed half the killings and rapes on criminals, but said Haitian police and anti-Aristide gangs were also involved and that UN troops had threatened civilians. Canada sent about 500 soldiers to Haiti in March 2004 as part of a UN peacekeeping mission, and they left in August of that year. Canadians have also been involved in leading a UN police force in Haiti.

The study found that no killings and few rights abuses were committed by supporters of Aristide's Fanmi Lavalas party - despite claims to the contrary by international and local human rights groups.

The report used a random sample method to question 5,720 Haitians in Port-au-Prince about their experience after Aristide's ouster.

Kolbe said she got to know Aristide when she volunteered 12 years ago at an orphanage and has "very warm feelings" for the former president.

"That does not by any means mean that I'm a Lavalas supporter," she said.

The researcher said she didn't disclose her ties to Aristide with The Lancet, saying "I didn't see it as relevant."

Kolbe said she had written articles about Haiti for several San Francisco publications under the name "Lyn Duff." She said her full name is Athena Lyn Duff-Kolbe, but that she only uses Athena Kolbe in her academic work.

The Lancet report cites two articles by Lyn Duff as references, but doesn't disclose that Duff and Kolbe are the same person.

Doubts about Kolbe's work were raised by Britain-based human rights activist Charles Arthur, who sent a letter to The Lancet expressing concern that the study tried to exonerate Aristide supporters even though independent human rights workers say they committed killings and rapes after the revolt.

"How can the survey be regarded as objective if the main person co-ordinating the survey hides her very pronounced political sympathies by using a different name?" Arthur wrote.                     

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