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Miami Press Caribbean Roundup

Haitian President Rene Preval on Tuesday rejected an apology from former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier and said the government would ask a court to recover millions in state funds allegedly stolen during the 15-year regime. Preval, speaking before leaving for the U.N. General Assembly in New York, said Duvalier’s surprise apology for past abuses was welcome but inadequate.”An apology is one thing, justice is another thing,” Preval, a former anti-Duvaliercarib2.jpg activist who was elected president last year, told reporters. “It will be up for the Haitian people to decide if there will be forgiveness.” Preval said his government had asked Swiss authorities to freeze Duvalier-linked bank accounts containing 7.6 million Swiss francs (US$6.3 million; euro4.7 million) – money many Haitians believe was stolen from public funds. Duvalier has denied illegally taking money and the Swiss government has said the funds would remain frozen for at least another year.

The president said his administration is preparing a case to “recuperate the funds,” without providing details.

Duvalier, whose regime came to an abrupt end in February 1986 when he fled the country during a popular uprising, ended years of silence over the weekend with a Haitian radio address in which he apologized for “wrongs” committed under his rule.

The address coincided with the 50th anniversary of the election of his father and predecessor, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

US VIRGIN ISLANDS: U.S. conservation group buys swath of pristine land in Caribbean territory

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – A large swath of coastal land has been secured by a U.S. conservation group, paving the way for the biggest expansion of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park since it was created more than 50 years ago.

The US$19 million (euro13.4 million) deal to purchase the majority of 419 acres (170 hectares) of tropical terrain, which features ruins of colonial plantations and is believed to contain pre-Columbian Indian village sites, was reached by The Trust for Public Land after years of negotiations with private owners, the group said Tuesday.

The pristine property on St. John, known as Estate Maho Bay, will be transferred to the National Park Service when federal funds become available in two to three years, said John Garrison, the San Francisco-based non-profit’s project manager for the acquisition.

“This untouched land, which many people assumed was part of the park, was very seriously threatened with development,” Garrison said in a phone interview from Florida.

Preservationists had feared developers would build on the unprotected parcels, which are located in the middle of the park and had attracted a slew of development proposals over the years.

The land includes more than a quarter-mile (almost half a kilometer) of white-sand beaches and rises to almost 1,000 feet (305 meters) in height, said Greg Chelius, director of the trust’s Florida and Caribbean program.

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Special force deployed to patrol Haitian bordercaribbean.jpg

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) – The Dominican Republic has deployed a new 500-member force on its porous border with Haiti in an effort to stop the illegal trafficking of people and drugs, military officials said.

Plans were announced in 2005 for the special force to patrol the countries’ 362-kilometer (225-mile) border on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but delays in training and finding qualified personnel held up its deployment.

Officials hope to add an additional 1,500 military, customs, intelligence and anti-drug agents to the Specialized Border Security Corps, or Cesfront, Armed Forces Secretary Gen. Ramon Aquino Garcia said Tuesday in a statement.

Previously, border patrol duties fell to the army.

The U.S. military contributed training and some US$350,000 (euro250,00) worth of scanning equipment to Cesfront under an agreement signed earlier this year.

Thousands of Haitians cross the border illegally each year in search of work and refuge from their impoverished nation. Though they do much of the hard labor in Dominican agriculture and construction, many face discrimination and violence.

Amnesty International has accused the Dominican government of violating Haitian migrants’ rights by carrying out mass deportations and refusing citizenship to their Dominican-born children.

PUERTO RICO: Prosecution witness testifies in trial of slain Canadian executive

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – The prosecution’s main witness in the murder trial of a Canadian businessman testified Tuesday that a dull thumping sound echoing along the cobblestone streets of San Juan alerted him to the fatal struggle two years ago.

Carlos Cotto Cartagena, a 30-year-old criminal attorney, said under oath that he saw the main suspect crouched over Winnipeg native Adam Anhang, 32, repeatedly striking him with a blunt object.

Anhang was a wealthy investor who moved to Puerto Rico in 2004 and had developed several high-profile hotel projects. He was attacked as he walked through San Juan’s colonial district with his wife several hours after they reached a divorce agreement.

Jonathan Roman Rivera, a former dishwasher at a restaurant that Anhang bought for his wife, was charged with first-degree murder several weeks later.

On Tuesday, Cotto identified Roman as the killer and said, when asked by the prosecution how sure he was, “So incredibly sure that I sleep comfortably every day.”

Under cross-examination, Cotto said Roman was wearing a baseball cap and had a beard when he saw him that night for several seconds. When Cotto picked Roman from a picture lineup several weeks later, his beard was gone, according to court documents.

Defense attorneys challenged his testimony by pointing out that Cotto was not wearing his glasses and had consumed several drinks when he witnessed the attack from roughly 10 feet (3 meters) away.

HAITI: U.S. issues warning on Haitian airline after 2 forced landings

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – The U.S. Embassy has barred its personnel from flying Haiti’s largest domestic airline and urged Americans to avoid the carrier pending an investigation into two emergency landings two weeks apart, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Haiti’s civil aviation agency grounded all Caribintair fights earlier this month after two of its single-engine Cessna Caravan planes were forced to make hard landings minutes after taking off from Port-au-Prince on Aug. 31 and Sept. 11. Five people were injured in the second incident.

The agency said last week that Caribintair was not at fault in either case, but no official cause for the emergency landings has been given and the airline is still waiting for approval to resume flying.

All U.S. Embassy staff will be prohibited from using the carrier pending the investigation, said embassy spokeswoman Shaila B. Manyam.

“Because of that decision, we are legally obligated to inform the American public (about using the airline) via an advisory,” Manyam said.

A Caribintair spokesman declined to comment. Previously, the company has said its planes are properly maintained.

Caribintair operates more than 30 flights daily to seven destinations in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic.

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