Aristide Accepts Peace Plan; Rivals Don't

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) agreed Saturday to a U.S.-backed peace plan to share power with political opponents, but his rivals resisted, saying he must step down for there to be peace in Haiti.

A delegation of diplomats led by Roger Noriega (search), the top U.S. envoy for the Western Hemisphere, ended a one-day trip to Haiti after failing to win over Aristide's opponents, but said they were optimistic that an agreement could be reached.

Aristide, who would remain president under the plan, said he had agreed to a new prime minister and government to organize elections.

But he declared he would "not go ahead with any terrorists," meaning he would not negotiate with rebels who have led a bloody two-week-old uprising that has killed more than 60 people and chased police from a score of towns.

One of the gang leaders who began the rebellion asked where the plan left him.

"What about me? When the international community come into Haiti ... they (will) take my gun," Buteur Metayer (search) told Associated Press Television News in Gonaives, the biggest city held by the rebels. "He (Aristide is) going to kill me."

The opposition politicians are not allied with the rebels, but both want to see Aristide step down. The political opponents met with foreign envoys Saturday and promised to deliver a formal response to the peace proposal by 5 p.m. Monday.

But they indicated that their answer would remain the same.

"We expect the international community to understand our position ... which will not change," said Gerard Pierre-Charles (search), a leading opposition leader once allied with Aristide.

Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell of the Bahamas remained optimistic that the opposition could be won over, telling reporters, "While we did not get a yes, we did not get a no."

Saturday's mediation efforts came as the United States urged citizens to leave the country amid mounting violence by Aristide militants in government-held areas. The rebels, meanwhile, threatened to attack Haiti's second-largest city, the northern port of Cap-Haitien (search), over the Carnival holiday weekend.

Throughout the recent bloodshed, Aristide, who has survived three assassination attempts and a coup d'etat, has said he will not step down before his term ends in 2006.

"Aristide has systematically broken his promises. Why should anyone believe him now?" asked lawyer Bernard Gousse, from a coalition of 184 civil groups in the Democratic Platform coalition.

He noted that Aristide had not kept pledges to former U.S. President Bill Clinton to disarm street gangs.

As Aristide was announcing his agreement, news came that Haitian journalist Elie Sem Pierre was shot and wounded by Aristide loyalists in Cap-Haitien. Militants there have armed themselves against any rebel incursion while frightened police have barricaded themselves in their station.

On Friday, Aristide loyalists attacked unarmed anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince, injuring 14, including a journalist.

Aristide accuses his political opponents of supporting the rebellion. His government spokesman, Mario Dupuy, said that with the plan "the opposition has a chance to prove it is not in favor of violence and terrorism."

Opposition leaders said the plan does not address how to halt the uprising and disarm rebels and militants.

Aristide indicated it would be done by Haitian police, saying the agreement calls for the Organization of American States to increase its help in training Haiti's small and ill-equipped force.

"We agreed to work hard disarming thugs, preventing terrorists in Gonaives moving ahead and killing people, and preventing members of the opposition from continuing with their violent approach," Aristide said.

But Haiti's demoralized police officers, numbering fewer than 4,000, have been deserting posts ahead of the rebel surge.

Metayer's gang was joined last week by ex-soldiers and a death squad commander from the disbanded Haitian army. The army ousted Aristide in 1991, brutalizing and murdering his supporters until the United States intervened in 1994.

Former President Bill Clinton sent 20,000 troops to end the military dictatorship and halt an exodus of boat people to Florida, but the Bush administration has made clear it has no appetite for another military adventure in Haiti.

The proposed plan requires the government and opposition to agree by Tuesday to a three-way commission of representatives from both sides and international delegates. The commission would choose a prime minister who would organize parliamentary elections.

A new police chief and police internal affairs chief would be appointed to replace Aristide partisans accused of politicizing the force.

"We have agreed to have a new government with a new prime minister," Aristide said after a two-hour-long meeting with the foreign diplomats.

Haiti has been in political crisis since flawed legislative elections in 2000 were swept by Aristide's Lavalas Party. International donors froze aid after the elections, and Haiti's misery has deepened.

Rebels have cut supply lines to northern Haiti and aid agencies warn a humanitarian catastrophe is imminent as food, medical supplies and gas run out.

Scores of Americans, including missionaries and aid workers, left Haiti on Friday. On Saturday, Mexico advised its citizens to get out and the United States expanded its warning, ordering nonessential embassy workers to leave.