South Africa is helping ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide prepare to return home after nearly seven years in exile, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane did not specify when Aristide might leave South Africa, and did not say what has held up his return since the Haitian government granted his request for a new passport earlier this month.

"We are consulting with all interested parties to facilitate his return back home at the appropriate time," she said, adding Aristide had asked to go home.

Aristide, a former priest and Haiti's first democratically elected president, was ousted in a violent rebellion in 2004 and left the country aboard a U.S. plane.

Many at home still see him as a champion of the poor, and he has said he would devote himself to education and other development projects following last year's devastating earthquake.

Speculation that Aristide might come back to Haiti soared after ex-dictator Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier made a surprise return in January after nearly 25 years of exile in France.

U.S. officials are among those worried though that Aristide's return could further destabilize a country preparing for a March 20 presidential runoff that was delayed by a political crisis and street disturbances over allegations of vote fraud.

"We would be concerned if former President Aristide returns to Haiti before the election," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters in Washington last week. "It would prove to be an unfortunate distraction to the people of Haiti."