Aristide Arrives in Haiti

 March 18, 2011
Aristide Arrives in Haiti
Photo: Reuters
Haiti's former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide blows a kiss after a news conference in Port-au- Prince, March 18, 2011

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has arrived Haiti after leaving South Africa late Thursday. Aristide said ending seven years exile in the southern African country was a "great day".

The media briefing at Oliver Tambo airport shortly before his departure, Aristide spoke of mixed feelings at leaving South Africa. He spoke in isiZulu, a language in which he has become proficient during his exile.

Mr Aristide said he and his family feel sad at leaving beloved friends, but at the same time felt peace at being able to return home after seven years. He said people in Haiti are waiting for the family's return, and said their long-held wish will soon come true.

The former Haitian leader was driven from office by armed rebels in 2004 and was granted exile in South Africa. He said he will not become involved in Haitian politics.

But he returns to Haiti two days before elections and amid warnings from the United States that his presence in the country could destabilize the poll. U.S. President Barack Obama called South African President Jacob Zuma earlier this week to voice that concern.

Zuma has not commented on the conversation, but Minister in the Presidency, Collins Chabane told the media that Haiti had earlier this year issued a passport to Mr Aristide, and Pretoria could not hold him "hostage".

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane told reporters Zuma had briefly met with Aristide before his departure.

"We've just had a brief good-bye inter-action between President Aristide, his family and President Zuma, who on behalf of the government, people of South Africa had wished President Aristide, Bon Voyage, and safe landing in his country of birth Haiti. I just want to say once again on behalf of our people, we wish you a safe and a happy landing."

Reports in South Africa say this country paid for his chartered flight to Haiti.

Well known American actor Danny Glover flew to South Africa to accompany Mr Aristide and his family back to Haiti.