Reports of split in Haiti's military are discounted

July 06, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Clinton administration claims that U.S. pressure and an international economic embargo have created significant splits in the Haitian military are just wishful thinking, diplomatic and military sources here say.

"There is nothing to indicate that members of the high command are at each other's throats or that the lower ranks are ready to revolt," said one long-serving diplomat from a country that opposes the armed forces' rule here.

"There are strains; there always have been. But these people [the military commanders] know they can't survive unless they remain unified. I'm not sure what Gray is talking about."

The diplomat was referring to William H. Gray III, President Clinton's chief adviser on Haitian affairs.

Mr. Gray has said repeatedly that the Haitian military shows signs of significant divisions brought on by U.S. pressure and an international embargo that is designed to end army rule and rTC restore the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was driven from office in September 1991.

A Haitian political expert who opposes the military but maintains contact with some army officers said Mr. Gray's assessment is misguided.

Speaking of the three most important military figures, army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, army chief of staff Gen. Philippe Biamby and Port-au-Prince Police Chief Michel-Joseph Francois, the source said: "Look. These people all have their own interests, and sometimes they conflict. But they know that the only way to get what they want individually is by maintaining the unity of the military."

By one military analyst's account, the camps of Generals Cedras and Biamby are close, and Chief Francois is the outsider who has in the past "sent signals [of his willingness to compromise] because he believes the international community is so desperate to end the crisis without invasion that they will deal with anyone."

But, he said, "Francois still sees himself as junior [to Generals Cedras and Biamby] and is unlikely to defy his commanders." Besides, the military analyst added, Chief Francois doesn't have the strength to confront the others and has pledged to follow their lead.

"He has never overreached, and he knows his limits," the source said.

That sentiment appears to run throughout the military's ranks.

At a recent meeting of army leaders and field commanders, some officers reportedly had planned to confront General Cedras and ask him to resign as demanded by the United States and the United Nations.

But when the meeting commenced, only one officer stood to make the demand. The rest stayed seated, and General Cedras went unchallenged.

An official with an international organization said General Cedras "believes that the United States won't come. He believes that the U.S. is bluffing."

Washington continues "to send mixed signals, at least in the minds of Cedras and his associates," the official said, citing repeated statements by Mr. Gray that the sanctions are working and that there are no plans for military intervention "anytime soon."

"Cedras believes that the Americans really understand that the sanctions won't work but are too divided and uncertain at home to undertake an invasion," the official said. "So he sees no reason to back away."

One diplomat acknowledged that there is some unrest among the enlisted men in the 7,000-member army because their pay doesn't always come on time.

"The little soldier is scared," he said, "but not enough to revolt, and they have no one to lead them. They will do what they are told. They have no choice."

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