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Reports of actions against returning Haitians rejected

The Bush administration insisted on Monday there is no evidence that Haitian refugees being forcibly returned to their country are suffering retribution from the military there, despite reports by U.N. staffers suggesting otherwise.

In separate statements, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater and Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had investigated such claims and had found no evidence to verify them.

Also Monday, attorneys for the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the Bush administration from forcibly repatriating several thousand Haitian boat people who are being kept at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to review the entire case.

At the same time, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, asking him to suspend the repatriation immediately until the U.N. reports "can be fully investigated" and Washington can assure that the Haitians "can return in safety and dignity."

The issue of whether the repatriated Haitians are encountering retaliation is important because under U.S. immigration law the Bush administration must accept the Haitians if there is evidence they left to escape political persecution, but it can turn them away if they left for economic reasons.

The administration contends that only a few Haitians out of the more than 15,000 boat people who have fled the strife-torn Caribbean nation since a military coup Sept. 30 have merited political asylum, and it has sought to return the rest to Haiti.

The United States returned 510 more refugees Monday from Guantanamo Bay, where there are still more than 11,000 refugees, the Red Cross said.

_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.