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Last Updated: Friday, 20 February, 2004, 22:05 GMT
Haiti conflict spurs peace drive
A rebel wearing a US flag takes part in a rally in Gonaives
The rebels control a swathe of northern Haiti
The United Nations has expressed mounting concern at the humanitarian crisis in Haiti where a rebellion against the president is spreading.

A UN spokeswoman said food and medical supplies were not reaching the north, with roads blocked by fighting.

Diplomats are presenting a peace plan to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his opponents, as the world community tries to broker a deal.

At least 12 people were injured in clashes in Haiti's capital on Friday.

Lawlessness

Militants loyal to Mr Aristide in Port-au-Prince opened fire on a crowd of students chanting anti-government slogans.

It was the latest outbreak of violence that has flared in recent months but which has its roots in disputed elections held in 2000.

The political opposition say they fear President Aristide will rig legislative elections due in 2004 and seek to stand for a third term himself in 2005.

President Aristide
Aristide has vowed to remain in office
Anti-Aristide insurgents have now seized several northern areas, including the city of Gonaives.

Aid workers have reported growing lawlessness as police abandon their posts in the north.

There are reports of rape and rebel gangs are said to be going into schools to attempt to recruit children.

The UN says it is vital to gain access to thousands of vulnerable people to stave off a humanitarian disaster.

The World Food Programme has chartered a ship to carry 1,000 tonnes of aid by sea to the north. It is due to leave Port-au-Prince on Saturday.

So far the US coast guard says it has not detected any increase in migrants seeking to reach American territory by sea.

But the rebellion has raised fears of a mass exodus reminiscent of the early 1990s, when tens of thousands fled the country's brutal military dictatorship.

Amid growing unrest, scores of foreigners have been leaving Haiti and several governments, including the US and the UK, have issued travel warnings.

New government

Foreign diplomats have presented peace proposals to Mr Aristide, US state department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

They were scheduled to deliver the plan to opposition leaders later on Friday.

On Saturday, senior officials from the US, Canada, France, the Caribbean Community (Caricom) and the Organization of American States are to fly to Haiti for further talks on the proposals.

The deal being offered is believed to involve the creation of a new, independent government, reports the BBC's Stephen Gibbs from Port-au-Prince.

President Aristide would remain head of state but with a more powerful, independent prime minister.

But Mr Aristide, whose term is not due to end until 2006, has made it clear he does not intend to go quietly.

"I, too, am ready to die if that is what I must do to defend my country," said the president, who has survived three assassination attempts and a coup d'etat.

Opposition politicians and the rebels have said the only deal they will accept is one that involves the complete removal of the president.


WATCH AND LISTEN
United Nation's Jan Egeland:
"The situation is deteriorating"


The BBC's Ben Brown
"It is an insurrection that has already left several people dead"



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