Haitian court orders gasoline to be released



PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP)—A Haitian judge gave Shell Oil Co. 24 hours to release gasoline it is holding back under a U.N.-imposed oil embargo that has stalled traffic and shut down much of the economy.

The ruling Wednesday could temporarily ease the effects of U.N. sanctions intended to pressure the ruling military to return power to exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

A civil court judge, Henock Voltaire, gave Shell until Thursday morning to comply.

Meanwhile, an international aid agency said Wednesday that U.S. warships enforcing the embargo turned back a food shipment sent to help feed the struggling Haitians.

The embargo applies only to fuel and weapons, but ships carrying other goods have been turned away if the containers could not be opened for inspection.

The agency, Food for Peace, said it diverted its ship to Jamaica.

Shell and the country’s two other distributors, Texaco and Esso, stopped deliveries of fuel already in Haiti after the embargo took effect Oct. 19.

A decision in another lawsuit that the National Petroleum Distributors Association filed against Texaco was pending. No suit was filed against Esso.

In the ruling against Shell in favor of the association, Voltaire cited a Supreme Court order that forced release of stockpiles during an earlier U.N. embargo in effect from June to August.

That order was sought by the military-backed government before Prime Minister Robert Malval was installed to prepare for Aristide’s scheduled return Oct. 30 under a U.N.-mediated accord.

The embargo was reimposed after the army commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, failed to step down as promised, thus blocking Aristide’s return. Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected president, was ousted in September 1992 and his right-wing opponents have used violence and threats to thwart his return.

Under Haitian law, the Haitian Central Bank purchases gasoline and diesel fuel and sells it on credit to the three wholesalers, which then distribute the fuel to their independent outlets.

The oil companies’ local stockpiles are expected to last from two to four weeks, depending on whether the gasoline is rationed.