zPRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa is helping ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide return to his homeland from exile in Pretoria, and any problems Washington has with that should be taken up with Haiti, the deputy foreign minister said Tuesday.
Marius Fransman told reporters that Aristide could return to Haiti in the next few days, or a week. A South African official last week said Aristide planned to return before a presidential run-off vote on Sunday. U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner acknowledged Aristide's right to return from South Africa, but he said returning this week "can only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti's elections."
Toner urged Aristide to "delay his return until after the electoral process has concluded to permit the Haitian people to cast their ballots in a peaceful atmosphere."
Fransman said: "It is not our responsibility if America feels that he should only go in two weeks or three weeks or four weeks.
"They need to engage the Haitian government," he said.
Aristide has lived in South Africa since leaving Haiti in 2004 on a U.S. plane. He accused U.S. diplomats of kidnapping him. Washington denies the charge.
The former slum priest was Haiti's first democratically elected president and remains popular with the poor.
Aristide has been saying for months that he wants to return to help his homeland recover from a devastating January 2010 earthquake. The way was opened when Aristide's diplomatic passport was delivered last month.