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U.N. votes for blockade against Haiti

Expecting to force Haiti to accept its exiled president back, the United Nations Security Council voted Wednesday for a worldwide blockade of the Caribbean country.

The council unanimously passed a resolution prohibiting ships or planes from delivering weapons or petroleum to Haiti, except in case of "verified essential humanitarian needs."

The enforcement provisions were weakened so that member states cannot stop ships at will and inspect their cargos, but diplomats said they expected oil companies to obey the measure anyway rather than risk condemnation to supply a relatively small market. U.S. and Canadian ships are expected to patrol the waters around Haiti.

After 20 months of futile and exhausting diplomatic talks, the U.N. is attempting to get tough. If the blockade works, it would add teeth to an embargo declared by the 34-country Organization of American States just after the September 1991 overthrow of Haiti's first democratically elected president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The United States, a member of the OAS, supplied 70 percent of Haiti's imports before the coup. But the embargo failed since it was frequently violated, and European countries never joined.

"They didn't mean what they were doing," said Antoine Izmery, a wealthy businessman and supporter of Aristide, in a telephone interview from Haiti on Wednesday. "Now, (Haitians) will see that something has changed" with the U.N. sanctions. The United States, France and Venezuela sponsored the U.N. resolution.

The sanctions are not due to take effect until midnight June 23, to give Haiti's military and interim government a chance to react. Since a blockade would further damage Haiti's already battered economy, the Security Council evidently hopes that the threat of a blockade will be enough to force Aristide's return.

Once the blockade begins, it is only to be lifted when an agreement to restore Aristide to power has been signed.

To further thwart the de facto Haitian government, the Security Council resolution calls for freezing its assets in all U.N. member states.

Two weeks ago, after Haitian leaders reneged on a preliminary agreement to allow a foreign police force into Haiti, President Clinton suspended the U.S. visas of some of them and froze their U.S. assets.

Over months of tedious negotiations on Haiti, U.N. special envoy Dante Caputo has repeatedly secured agreements only to have them collapse at the last minute. He finally gave up on milder measures and recommended the blockade.

It may interfere with one of the few concessions Caputo won: the establishment inside Haiti of a team of international human rights monitors. There are now about 180 U.N. observers spread around Haiti, but they may be withdrawn as economic conditions worsen.

The U.N. resolution notes that since the coup, Haiti has suffered severe political violence and human rights crimes and that "despite the efforts of the international community, the legitimate government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide has not been re-established."

Aristide is a Roman Catholic priest with a wide following among Haiti's poor, to whom he made fiery speeches against the wealthy and the military. Most members of the elite bitterly oppose him.

Representatives of Aristide, who lives in exile in Washington, D.C., have officially informed the 15-member Security Council that they support a blockade.

As the United Nations discussed its plan, on Tuesday the Haitian parliament passed a bill recognizing Aristide's legitimacy for the first time since the coup. But it attached conditions for his return that it knew he would not accept, including that Aristide grant amnesty to the soldiers who overthrew him.

Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, chief of the Haitian army, Tuesday rejected a U.N. invitation to meet with the Aristide side in New York. He said it would be "unconstitutional" for the army to get involved in politics, although he directed the coup that overthrew the president and Haitian efforts to stall Aristide's return since then.

If no progress is made before June 23, it will take several weeks before Haiti begins to feel the effects of the blockade. The country received a large shipment of petroleum last week, and diplomats in Port-au-Prince, the capital, report that there are about six weeks of fuel supplies on hand. Since a blockade has long been threatened, the army probably has stockpiled still more for its own use.

"We'll see how this unfolds in about four weeks," Izmery said.

Like the OAS embargo, the blockade also might be perforated. Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. During the last 20 months of blockade, goods have poured over the land border between the two countries, which would be difficult to patrol. The Security Council's resolution does not include any provisions for stopping or searching ships bound for Haiti, although an earlier draft did.

The resolution also does not specify how the blockade will be set up, or by whom. Canada has offered warships for the mission, and the United States may use part of the Coast Guard fleet that has been stationed off the coast of Haiti since January to keep Haitian boat people from trying to sail to Florida.

_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.

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