Aristide Arrives in Central African Republic

Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (searcharrived in the Central African Republic Monday, fleeing Haiti under an asylum offer negotiated by France and the United States, the government here said.

Aristide and a small entourage including his wife flew into this impoverished, Africa nation in the early morning. Shortly after arriving, he gave a brief address to Central African Republic (searchstate radio — his first public comments since leaving Haiti.

"In overthrowing me, they cut down the tree of peace," the exiled leader declared. "But it will grow again, because the roots are well-planted."

He also thanked authorities here, and saluted Africa and its people — "because Africa is the father of us, Haitian men and women."

State radio said that Aristide would stay in the country for "a few days" and possibly head to South Africa afterward, although that could not be confirmed.

"He's here with his wife and we've granted them asylum for the beginning, and then we'll see what happens," Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye told The Associated Press.

"I don't know that yet," Mbaye said when asked where Aristide would go next. "But we will know it in the days to come."

The ousted Haitian president's arrival solved the immediate mystery of Aristide's whereabouts after his weekend flight from Haiti (search), where rebels were moving in upon the capital.

Security guards at the airport in Bangui (search), the country's capital, said Aristide's plane arrived at 1:15 a.m. EST.

An Associated Press reporter saw a white plane with green stripes sitting on the tarmac, and a car belonging to Central African Republic's foreign minister going into the airport.

Aristide was taken from there to the presidential palace, in the bullet-pocked capital, Bangui.

The United States, France and the west African nation of Gabon helped negotiate Aristide's start in exile here, Mbaye said.

Central African Republic — so cash-strapped that it has been unable to pay many civil servants' salary here for months — hoped that the international community would help pick up the tab of Aristide's stay here, the communications minister said.

Earlier, in Antigua, a senior Caribbean official said Aristide told him during a refueling stop on the Caribbean island that he was bound for South Africa.

In Johannesburg, presidential spokesman Bheki Khumalo cast doubts on reports of Aristide being headed for South Africa.

"We are still not aware that he is coming here. I would have thought by now we would have known if he was," Khumalo said.

Western diplomats in Johannesburg also said they had no indication that Aristide was heading to the country.

Under pressure from foreign nations, rebels and political opponents, Aristide resigned Sunday and flew into exile following a two-week rebellion that has wrecked the Caribbean nation.

Aristide's plane was in Antigua for about an hour Sunday to refuel, officials said on condition of anonymity.

Several countries including Panama and Costa Rica said they would offer exile to Aristide.

It was not clear why Central African Republic was the choice for at least a first stop in exile.

A former French colony, Central African Republic stands today as one of Africa's most turbulent countries, weathering nine coups and coup attempts since independence in 1960.

Current military ruler Francois Bozize took power in a March 2002 coup — himself ousting an elected but increasingly upopular leader. Bozize has been courting international support as he tries to restore aid and stability to his country.

Although rich in gold, diamond and other resources, the impoverished nation of 3.7 million is habitually unable to make its civil servants payroll, helping spark incessant strikes, unrest and coup attempts.