THE last of the Haitian junta's terrible trio - Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras - officially stepped down Oct. 10. He joins Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, who resigned Oct. 8, and Port-au-Prince police chief Michel Francois, who fled earlier to the neighboring Dominican Republic.
General Cedras has promised to leave Haiti, reversing his earlier statement that he would only step down, not leave. The Dominican Republic has indicated that it will not let any of the ousted military leaders stay there for long. Venezuela, saying its proximity to Haiti would increase the chance of it being used as a base for mixing in Haitian politics, has denied asylum to the exiles. Other nearby countries should take the same helpful attitude.
The way is now open for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to return Oct. 15 to delirious celebrations by the majority of Haitians. Accompanying President Aristide will be an end of international economic sanctions. Shipments of diesel oil and gas are on the way. Hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid will begin pouring in to address immediate human needs and lay a foundation for rebuilding the collapsed economy.
These developments represent solid achievements. They were won through hard diplomatic work and international cooperation, backed by a display of ``robust'' (to use the current buzzword) US military force.
But now that the junta's top leaders are gone, the next steps will require equal skill, patience, and determination. Aristide must move vigorously into the power vacuum, quickly reestablish his cabinet, and press his theme of reconciliation. Distrust between the military and ordinary Haitians remains dangerously high. The creation of credible military and police forces has barely begun.
US troops remain in harm's way. The end of their mission on behalf of democracy and human rights in Haiti is not clearly in sight, but let us hope that they reach it safely.