Former dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier, who has been living in France for the past 25 years, has returned to Haiti, Haitian national TV reports.

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AUDIO:CBC's Connie Watson reports on former dictator Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier's return to Haiti. (St-Felix Evens/Reuters)

The surprising development caught the nation off guard as it grapples with a political crisis and the one-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake.

Duvalier, 59, arrived on an Air France plane about 5:50 p.m. local time Sunday. He wore a dark suit and blue tie. He was greeted at the airport with hugs from supporters. He was taken into an immigration office before customs.

"He is happy to be back in this country, back in his home," said Mona Beruaveau, a candidate for Senate in a Duvalierist party who spoke to the former dictator inside the immigration office. "He is tired after a long trip."

She didn't say why he has returned but that he would hold a news conference on Monday.

A handful of loyalists have been campaigning to bring Duvalier home from exile in France, launching a foundation to improve the dictatorship's image and reviving Duvalier's political party in the hopes that one day he can return to power democratically.

Duvalier and his wife fled into exile during a 1986 popular rebellion and have been living in Paris.

Duvalier and his father, Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier, tortured and killed their political opponents, ruling in an atmosphere of fear and repression ensured by the bloody Tonton Macoute secret police.

The end of his reign was followed by a period known as deshoukaj or "uprooting" in which Haitians carried out reprisals against Macoutes and regime loyalists, tearing their houses to the ground.

In the fall of 2007, President René Préval told reporters that Duvalier could return to Haiti but would face justice for the deaths of thousands of people and the theft of millions of dollars.

In France, the deputy spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said she had seen news of Duvalier's arrival in Haiti, but had "no information" about the matter and could not confirm that he'd left France. The spokeswoman did not give her name, in accordance with ministry policy.

Government of Canada sources told CBC News on Sunday that "Canada is aware of his presence and we'll monitor the situation."

Since the January 2010 quake, Canada has committed $550 million to Haiti. Canadians have raised another $220 million for a total of $770 million to help offer relief in the wake of the earthquake disaster that killed more than 300,000 people and left a million more homeless.

Duvalier's return Sunday comes as the country also struggles to work through a dire political crisis following the problematic Nov. 28 first-round presidential election.

Three candidates want to go onto a second round. The Organization of American States sent in a team of experts to resolve the deadlock, recommending that Préval's candidate be excluded.

Préval was reportedly not pleased with the report. OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza was scheduled to be in Port-au-Prince to meet with Préval on Monday.

With files from CBC News