BANGUI, Central African Republic – The Central African Republic (search), in an apparent change of heart, said Thursday it would offer ex-Haiti leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide (search) permanent asylum if he were to ask.
"I can't say definitively if Mr. Aristide will stay here or if he'll go, but if he asks us, we won't refuse him," said Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye (search).
Aristide flew to the Central African Republic on a U.S.-chartered jet Sunday, as anti-government rebels closed in on the Haitian capital at the culmination of a nearly month-long uprising.
The poor African nation's government said Aristide was staying temporarily while a permanent asylum was negotiated with a third country — South Africa mentioned most often.
The day after he arrived, Aristide told reporters and members of the U.S. Congress in telephone calls from Bangui that he had been abducted at gunpoint by U.S. Marines and forced to leave his country.
Aristide's behavior caused Bangui considerable diplomatic embarrassment, and the government said the former Haitian leader should stop making such claims.
"The authorities have already called on Aristide to remain calm, to stop making accusations against America," Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
There was no immediate indication whether Aristide would accept the asylum offer. He has had no known direct contact with reporters since making his allegations against the United States.
Mbaye said he hoped that if Aristide remained permanently in the Central African Republic, the international community would help pay for his upkeep.
"The country's going through a very difficult financial situation," he said. "I'm convinced that the international community ... will also take this aspect into account."