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Aristide still casts shadow in unsettled Haiti

As published by

Aristide still casts shadow in unsettled Haiti
Rebels roll into capital as U.S. denies kidnapping claim

The Associated Press
Updated: 9:43 a.m. ET March 02, 2004PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The aftershocks of President Jean Bertrand Aristide’s departure from Haiti echoed from the streets of Port-Au-Prince to Washington, D.C., as rebels refused to fade into the background and accusations of a coup dogged American officials.

U.S. Marines and French troops secured key sites around the capital on Monday, and rebels rolled into the capital to cheering crowds as Haiti’s bloody uprising moved from the streets to the political arena.

Aristide, currently in the Central African Republic, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday that he was “forced to leave” Haiti by U.S. military forces. He added that they would “start shooting and be killing” if he refused, but it was unclear if he was referring to rebels or U.S. agents.

American officials dismissed Aristide’s claim. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the allegations “absolutely baseless, absurd.” U.S. officials acknowledged privately, however, that Aristide was told that if he remained in Haiti, U.S. forces would not protect him from the rebels who wanted to arrest him and put him on trial for corruption and murder.

In the Central African Republic, Aristide is being guarded by French soldiers, France’s defense minister said Tuesday. “It is simply so his transitional stay in the Central African Republic unwinds in normal conditions,” Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.

France does not intend to control his “comings and goings,” Alliot-Marie said.

Asylum plans
Aristide and the president of the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize, were expected to discuss plans for the ousted Haitian leader’s final asylum plans in an as-yet-unknown third country later Tuesday, Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye said.

U.S. plans for a quiet, orderly transition appeared threatened, despite the arrival of hundreds of American, French and Canadian soldiers as an interim peacekeeping force.

Rebels who had promised to lay down their arms if their main demand — Aristide’s resignation — was met, instead swaggered into the capital, hinting they were here to stay. They said they would just tolerate police and international peacekeepers, while enforcing their own kind of justice.

One young rebel standing outside the meeting freely told a reporter he had shot looters Sunday and predicted militant members of Aristide’s Lavalas party would be executed.

“I shot some looters yesterday. They have to be shot,” said the rebel, who goes by the nom-de-guerre “Faustin.”

“There are some very minimal numbers of Lavalas who cannot be saved,” said the fighter.

“We don’t need peacekeepers, we need military help. We need more guns,” said second-tier rebel leader Paul Arcelin, as the motley crew of former police and military officers settled into the police headquarters in front of the National Palace, patrolled by U.S. Marines just a few hundred feet away.

They said they intended to return the old building to its previous function as army headquarters, revive the army that ousted Aristide in 1991 and that he disbanded in 1995, and enforce a curfew.

No disarming
Meanwhile, the prospect of peacekeepers — the other arm of U.S. strategy — appeared reduced to a minimal expression, with Marine Col. Dave Berger announcing that his 200 troops would not disarm rebels or the pro-Aristide militants and they would not police the city.

And the civilian opposition raised concerns about an orderly transition when some of its leaders showed a near adoration for the rebels and contempt for an international transition plan.

The only encouraging sign was the relief among people in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Callers flooded talk radio programs with appeals for rebel help from people in neighborhoods still dominated by the pro-Aristide gangs that had terrorized the city.

Scattered looting continued, police cleared the city of barricades, but gunfire continued to crackle in some neighborhoods and bound, executed bodies showed up in the streets.

In the capital, there were reports of reprisal killings of Aristide supporters who had been accused of terrorizing people during his rule. An Associated Press reporter saw four bodies at Carrefour, on the outskirts of the capital, three of them with hands tied and shot in the head.

Bad record
Powell said he did not want some rebel leaders to take any role in a new government.

“Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records, and this is something we will have to work through,” Powell said.

Amnesty International called Monday for international peacekeepers to arrest rebel leaders Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former death squad leader convicted of murders while he was in exile, and Jean Pierre Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, who escaped from jail after being sentenced to two life sentences in the 1994 massacre of 15 Aristide supporters.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 U.S. troops would go to Haiti for a “relatively short period.” They would participate in an interim force, which could include as many as 5,000 troops from several countries, that would stay until replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force.

There were no clashes between the rebel force and the U.S. and French troops, who were establishing security at diplomatic missions and other sites.

Aristide’s home in the suburb of Tabarre, meanwhile, was looted and trashed, but he continued to cast a long shadow over Haiti. timeline History of Haiti

Terms of his resignation
Questions were raised about whether Aristide resigned of his own accord or was forced out by the United States.

Aristide abruptly left Haiti early Sunday and was flown aboard a contracted U.S.-government plane to the impoverished Central African Republic.

With rebels closing in on the capital, Aristide may have felt his life was in danger. After he left, thousands converged on the plaza outside the National Palace, shouting “Liberty!” and “Aristide is gone!” as a 70-man rebel convoy arrived from the western town of Gonaives, where the rebellion erupted on Feb. 5. At least 100 people have died in the uprising.

Civilian opposition leaders met with rebels for hours at a Port-au-Prince hotel Monday. The opposition, angered by poverty, corruption and crime, had pushed for Aristide to leave for the good of Haiti’s 8 million people — but had distanced themselves from the rebels.

Industrialist Charles Henry Baker, a member of the broad-based opposition coalition that includes business associations and civic groups, said he welcomed an offer by the rebels to help maintain order amid reports of continued looting in the capital.

Col. Berger, head of the U.S. Marine contingent, said 200 Marines from the 8th Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., wouldn’t have much contact with Haiti’s demoralized National Police, one of the remaining institutions.

Posted by Mark at March 2, 2004 12:40 PM | TrackBack

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