by CNN –
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (March 7, 2004) — In the Central African Republic security personnel brandishing Kalashnikov rifles burst into a news conference scheduled for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s American wife, Mildred Trouillet, and told the 30 or so journalists assembled to turn off their cameras.
After the journalists protested, a local television crew was allowed to videotape the event, which ended after 40 minutes with an announcement that Aristide himself would speak to the news media within 72 hours.
Earlier in the day, the government announced both Aristide and Trouillot would speak to the news media at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital, Bangui. Officials later said that only Trouillot would be available.
When Trouillot arrived with two bodyguards, Minister of Foreign Affairs Herve Charles Wenezoui waved her to the back of the room. Despite protests by the journalists, she was not allowed to speak.
Instead, Wenezoui read a one-page handwritten note from Aristide that he said Trouillot had brought.
“We thank the people of the government of the Central African Republic for its hospitality in taking us in and making us feel at home. We are happy here and extend our thanks to all the people of this country,” Wenezoui said the note read. ‘Wenezoui refused to allow journalists to inspect the note.
Trouillot — wearing a black suit and matching high heels, her hair cut short –sat in the rear of the room throughout the event without speaking, her head bowed. One journalist said she looked terrified.
Asked by a journalist if she was all right, she looked up and nodded without conviction. Asked if her husband was all right, she gave the same nod. Central African Republic officials later apologized for their handling of the matter and said Aristide would address the media at noon (6 a.m. ET) Monday.
The Aristides’ host and the leader of the government is Gen. Francois Bozize, a 55-year-old career military officer who seized power last March in a coup against Ange Felix Patasse, who had been democratically elected president.
They have been staying in an apartment on the grounds of the presidential mansion. Minister of Information Parfait M’Bay said last week that Aristide would be granted asylum, but only if he asked for it.
Regarding the restrictions on Aristide’s communication with the outside world, M’Bay said, “We made Mr. Aristide understand that in no case could he use the territory of Central Africa, the hospitality of Central Africa, to create problems for his country by calling on the people to revolt, for example, or by making regrettable statements.”
The impoverished nation has been wracked by a number of military coups and dictatorships since it gained independence from France in 1964. Slightly smaller than Texas at 240,324 square miles (622,400 square kilometers), the Central African Republic has a population of 3 million, about 600,000 of whom live in the capital.
CNN’s Lucia Newman and Jeff Koinange contributed to this report.
British Broadcasting Is Mum
There has been concern that the Blair government’s attack on the independent of the BBC might somehow affect the station’s legendary freedom of reporting. We may already be seeing evidence of the muzzling of the BBC.
Here is what the BBC reported (0247 GMT March 8) about the news conference in the Central African Republic. No mention of Kalashnikov rifles. No mention of the press being intimidated. No mention of Aristide’s wife being harrassed.>
BBC Report on Disrupted Press Conference‘
Meanwhile in the Central African Republic — where Mr Aristide went into exile last Sunday — the government read out a statement from Mr Aristide, saying he had been “very well received”.
The former Haitian leader will speak directly to journalists at an appropriate time, the statement added.