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Aristide says armed terror groups still a threat

Paramilitary group members are hiding their arms and waiting for an opportunity to again spread terror, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Saturday.

Underscoring Aristide's worries was the announcement that U.S.-led forces on Friday found a cache of mortars, grenades and ammunition stashed in a tunnel here.

Aristide, however, said U.S. troops had greatly improved security since they arrived last month to restore democracy to the impoverished nation.

"What we have now is better than what we had before," Aristide told journalists at a hastily called news conference. "Although we are not reaching the end of the process yet, we are delighted."

Aristide spoke in the ground-floor atrium of his two-story house north of the capital. The simply furnished house was ransacked after military leaders ousted the president in a September 1991 coup.

"I'm happy to be back in my house, happy to forget about what they did," said Aristide, who was dressed in suit and tie.

He urged Haitians to embrace democracy and reconciliation and support Parliament's efforts to re-establish the legal system. "In order to build democracy we must respect the laws," he said.

Aristide, who was restored by U.S. troops on Oct. 15, only Friday left the National Palace and returned to his refurbished home in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

Journalists underwent a rigorous security check by Haitian officials and U.S. soldiers before entering Aristide's home.

The weapons stash discovered late Friday afternoon included hand and rifle-launched grenades, tear gas cartridges and 16 mortar launchers with ammunition, said Paul Browne, deputy director of the International Police Monitoring Force.

There were also 375 rounds of 9mm pistol ammunition, and 1,370 rounds of ammunition for pre-Vietnam War M-14 rifles, he said.

The weapons were turned over to the U.S. military, and no arrests were made, Browne said.

With a U.S. cash-for-guns program scoring only limited success, disarming paramilitary forces allied with the old military regime has become a big concern for the United Nations as it prepares to take charge of the multinational peacekeeping effort.

At least 3,000 civilians were killed by military-backed police and paramilitary gunmen during military rule.

Also Saturday, the Rev. Gerard Jean-Juste returned to South Florida from Haiti, where he had been in hiding for three years, to meet with members of the Haitian exile community he led for more than a decade.

Jean-Juste said he would talk with exiles about how best to help Haiti during his three-day stay. Haitians living here should consider visiting their homeland, he said, but not moving there.

"The economy in Haiti is not yet stable," he said. "Rather than returning them to misery, the United States should hold off on deportations."

Jean-Juste, 48, is the founding member and first executive director of the powerful Haitian Refugee Center in Miami.

He returned to Haiti in 1991 after the Aristide's election. Aristide called him to serve as minister of the department which represents Haitians living abroad.

When a military coup ousted Aristide seven months later, Jean-Juste was forced into hiding. Since Aristide's return earlier this month, Jean-Juste has resumed his post.

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