Panama's President-Elect Pledges to Accept Haitians

PRESIDENT-ELECT Ernesto Perez Balladares said Sunday he was prepared to accept a group of Haitian refugees at a US military base in Panama, but they could stay for no longer than six months.

Mr. Perez, speaking at Panama's Tocumen airport before a trip to Spain, Italy, the United States, and Mexico, did not say when the Haitians could begin arriving in Panama, and said they would be fewer than the 10,000 requested by the US.

On Sept. 1, Perez succeeds President Guillermo Endara Galimany, who had agreed last week to accept up to 10,000 Haitians and then changed his mind.

Perez said he would accept ``a contingent of Haitian refugees, but for not longer than six months,'' and that they would have to be under ``the control and the responsibility of the US government and Army.'' They ``would have no freedom of movement, they would be practically prisoners'' if they came to Panama, he added. Islands cool to Haitians

THROUGHOUT the Caribbean, the response to the prospect of hosting Haitian refugees is: Not on my island.

``Should the gates be opened and the Haitians be absorbed into our work force, Antiguans and Barbudans can kiss jobs goodbye,'' stated an editorial in an Antigua newspaper.

Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Grenada, which lie in the Eastern Caribbean east of Haiti, are to shelter some Haitians, although no date has been set for opening camps. The British-owned Turks and Caicos Islands, which lie 90 miles north of Haiti, will house a processing center scheduled to open this week.

The flow of Haitian refugees resulting from increased repression and an international trade embargo turned into a flood after President Clinton guaranteed boat people seeking US asylum hearings at offshore processing centers. Since the policy took effect June 16, the US Coast Guard has plucked more than 18,600 Haitians from ramshackle boats.

In Dominica, Prime Minister Eugenia Charles said Saturday the island nation would shelter up to 2,000 Haitian refugees for one year. But main opposition leader Edison James of the United Workers Party said on state-owned radio Friday, ``Haiti is a United States problem and the United States should take care of its problem.''

The Clinton administration reported Friday that US officials were traveling to the Caribbean to work out specifics on safe havens with Grenada, Dominica and Antigua, and Barbuda, and to hold talks with at least two other potential countries that were not identified.

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