Clinton to send troops to Haiti

May 11, 1994|By Kenneth Freed | Kenneth Freed,Los Angeles Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The United States plans to send at least 600 heavily armed and protected troops to purge this nation's military, even if a broader, tougher program of international sanctions forces the army regime to give up power, diplomats and Haitian sources say.

The only question is the timing and ultimate size of the force, sources say. "When [the U.S. forces] come is under discussion in Washington right now," a U.S. official in Haiti said yesterday.

He said the choices are to send the troops in before or after the local military leaders leave. The Americans "prefer that they leave first," said one source, "but if they don't, the troops will go in anyway."

A United Nations Security Council resolution has given three Haitian military leaders until May 21 to resign and leave the country. The leaders are Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the army commander-in-chief; Maj. Gen. Philippe Biambi, the deputy army chief, and Lt. Col. Joseph Michel Francois, the national police commander.

If they do not resign, an international economic embargo will take effect, banning all trade and commercial dealings with the tiny nation except for certain essentials.

President Clinton has said if General Cedras and the others resist, the United States will consider using military force. But he has maintained that he has not made a decision and wants to let the sanctions strategy play out.

But U.S. officials in Washington, as well as diplomats and experts in Haiti, say that the president is only employing semantics in a political ploy to ease U.S. congressional objections to a major American military action.

"It is not a question of whether there will be an American military intervention here," said a diplomat from another country, "but its size and when it gets here. I think by the time it is all done, we will see several thousand U.S. troops here, even if Cedras leaves tomorrow and [ousted President Jean-Bertrand] Aristide arrives the day after."

"What Clinton will want to do is say [that his course of action] is a reconstituted 'Harlan County' and that it doesn't represent any change from what was agreed to at Governors Island," he said. "I can tell you this will be a far different situation."

He was referring to an agreement signed in July on Governors Island in New York Harbor that provided for the return of President Aristide and General Cedras' resignation. Among its provisions was a call for a multinational, U.N. military and police advisory group to train a new police force, restructure the army and build roads.

Mob prevented docking

The day the bulk of that force -- about 270 unarmed U.S. and Canadian troops -- arrived on board the U.S. military cargo ship the Harlan County, a mob of 100 or so men, organized by the Haitian army, prevented the vessel's docking.

When U.S. officials decided not to risk a confrontation and ordered the Harlan County back to the United States, the whole agreement collapsed.

"This time," said a diplomat, "there will be at least 600 American troops. They will be heavily armed and there will be a large number of combat troops to protect the advisers and engineers."

Although it will be called a U.N. military adviser group, in reality it will be almost entirely a U.S. operation.

The Canadians, who support tougher sanctions but oppose a real military intervention, will provide about 50 police trainers, but they won't be sent to Haiti until General Cedras has been removed, the diplomat said.

The French and Venezuelans, who also were involved in the earlier trainer effort, have indicated that they will not participate in the military operation.

State Department officials in Washington said they hope Ottawa and Caracas will change their positions, but that the United States would intervene anyway.

"Clinton will argue that he doesn't need any further U.N. or even [U.S.] congressional approval because he will maintain this is just implementing an earlier agreement," one official said.

"He also will maintain that the troops will only be armed for self-protection and will not constitute either an invasion or an occupation force. . . ."

Out 'before December'

"I am certain," the official went on, "that [the president] also will promise to be out of Haiti before December."

One diplomat observer argued that if the United States has not ousted the Haitian regime in the next few months, it "will be faced with aserious international public relations crisis."

He said, "The Americans feel the end of June is a deadline, even those who argue that the [sanctions] should be given a chance before the military advisers are sent in."

He explained that President Clinton, "does not want to attend a hemispheric summit in Miami in December with either the military still in power or U.S. troops occupying Haiti."

In reality, many seasoned experts here say that the sanctions alone won't succeed in forcing General Cedras out. "Total embargo or not," said one diplomat, "there is no incentive for [Haiti's military leaders] to give in. Even the threat of force won't work. They just don't believe it."

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