Aristide goes back to Haiti

Friday, March 18, 2011

Pretoria - Exiled former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has headed back to his home country.

Escorted to his aircraft by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Aristide, his wife and children left South Africa for Haiti at 11.15pm last night.

"The great day has arrived. The day to say goodbye before returning home," said Aristide, in a statement in Zulu.

"In Haiti, they are very happy because they were waiting for us and they have wanted for us to be back home as soon as possible. It's normal. Their dream will be fulfilled," he said, adding they were happy to go home after seven years of exile in South Africa.

Nkoana-Mashabane said President Jacob Zuma wished Aristide "bon voyage" and a happy landing as he sets about trying to help rebuild Haiti, which was ravaged by an earthquake 14 months ago.

The minister reminded Aristide he not only had friends, but family in South Africa. "We are wishing you all the best with all your future endeavours as you work with the people of Haiti to rebuild a very proud nation." 

The return of Aristide, still hugely popular in Haiti's slums, comes ahead of a presidential run-off vote on Sunday that could offer some stability to a country reeling from a devastating 2010 earthquake and political turmoil.

US officials have warned that the three-time leader's return could add to the uncertainty gripping the Western Hemisphere's poorest country, and US President Barack Obama has been on record as saying the timing of the return may be destabilising.

Aristide was twice president of Haiti. During his first presidency, he was ousted in a coup and was restored to power in 1994. He was then re-elected years later, but fled on a US plane during a rebellion in 2004.