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Rumsfeld Praises Haiti Peacekeeping Effort

Associated Press | March 22, 2005
By JOHN J. LUMPKIN

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said peacekeeping efforts in Haiti are generally going well as he prepared to visit several Latin American countries involved with the effort.

In the Argentine capital, Rumsfeld was meeting with Defense Minister Jose Pampuro on Tuesday to discuss Haiti and other issues, including scientific cooperation and controls to counter the proliferation of surface-to-air missiles that governments fear terrorists could use to bring down civilian airliners.

His trip includes visits to Brazil and Guatemala.

After landing in March 2004 to halt violence, the U.S. military turned over the mission in Haiti to allies. But the peacekeepers have been criticized for inaction the face of widespread violence.

Brazil leads the mission with more than 1,100 troops. Argentina is second-in-command in the operation and has 550 troops there. Guatemala also has sent soldiers.

``I think the forces in Haiti have done a generally a good job,'' Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Argentina Monday.

Rumsfeld has promoted the Haiti effort as an opportunity for nations in the Americas to work together. But officials fear that foreign commitments of aid are not being fulfilled, leaving reconstruction lagging as fall elections approach.

The Bush administration has encouraged Argentina to increase security in the ``triple frontier'' region along its borders with Brazil and Paraguay. Rough jungle terrain and lax controls in the area have raised fears of criminal and terrorist elements operating at will.

About 629,000 people live in the region stretching across the borders, and authorities say that population includes 23,000 people of Lebanese descent.

The country saw terrorist attacks in the early 1990s, when Iranian-backed Hezbollah operatives struck the Israeli Embassy and a Jewish cultural center in separate bombings that killed scores.

But any move to give the country's military a higher profile in internal security would likely serve as a reminder of the military dictatorship, which lasted from 1976 to 1983, that employed torture and killings of dissidents. Subsequent government figures put the number of missing at the hands of the junta at 9,000; human rights groups put it as high as 30,000.

The U.S. government nevertheless provided Buenos Aires with military assistance during that time. Since it returned to democracy, Argentina has sent troops on peacekeeping operations worldwide, and, in addition to the troops in Haiti, the country has 320 peacekeepers in Cyprus and more than 170 in Kosovo.

It is the only country in Latin America that holds ``major non-NATO ally'' status with the United States, exempting it from certain sanctions.

Relations have further cooled since 2002, when Argentina defaulted on international loans and its economy collapsed. Populist Nestor Kirchner emerged as the president after the political upheaval that followed, and Argentina joined other countries in South America that strongly opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Most countries have stockpiles of either Soviet- or American-designed missiles that the Bush administration would like to see better controlled. Nicaragua, in particular, has hundreds of surface-to-air missiles left over from its time as a Soviet ally.

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