Death squads target Haitian teens in wave of political retribution HAITI: ON THE BRINK OF INVASION

September 16, 1994|By E. A. Torriero | E. A. Torriero,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Kosnoy Joseph's body lay in an alley, his head pierced by a bullet, his swollen face telling of a brutal beating.

Kosnoy, 16, was targeted Wednesday by a military "death squad," neighbors say. He is at least the 10th teen in a week to be murdered in the Cite Soleil slum by hooded, plainclothes police, child advocates and U.S. officials said.

In what could be the final and most cruel wave of violence before a U.S. invasion, Haiti's military appears to be systematically murdering high school-age youths.

"Kids are a reflection of the society they live in," said a Haitian child psychologist who works with street children and fears retribution at the hands of the military junta. "And in this society, kids know full well they can be killed as quickly as adults."

U.S. officials monitoring the human rights violations here say teens in the city's famous slum may be targets because their families have long been vocal supporters of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Kosnoy's older brother was active politically against the military regime, his family said. But like many of the youngsters killed in recent weeks, Kosnoy played soccer -- not politics.

Bertony Occidor, 16, kept watch over his friend's body for hours yesterday as it lay wrapped in sheets in the sweltering sun. "A kid shouldn't be dying this way," he said.

The assassination of teens so troubles the Clinton administration that it was one of the major reasons the president is pushing to hasten an invasion, a senior U.S. diplomat said.

Plainclothes soldiers rounded up 10 young people in Cite Soleil last week and arrested them, according to several sources. When child advocates went to get them, the military denied having the teens in jail.

One of the 10 was released from jail yesterday and sought refuge at a center for street kids. He is a lucky one, social workers say.

"The other nine are dead," the psychologist said. "The military killed them before we could stop it."

Kosnoy's family had no way to remove his body, dumped at dawn in a burlap bag. Police ignored pleas to call the local morgue.

For hours, dozens of teens and children crowded around the boy's corpse. Kosnoy's 12-year-old sister, Marjorie, stood watch, wiping her tears on the hem of her print dress.

"Susu's there," she said, using her brother's nickname and pointing at the body.

The teen's aunt believes that her nephew was killed to send a message to Father Aristide's supporters.

"Everyone is vulnerable," said Zette Joseph. "This could happen to anyone's children."

The teen murders come as millions of Haiti's children are reeling from a decade-long spell of malnutrition, disease and neglect. Now, children in Cite Soleil -- some as young as 5 -- are suffering nightmares from seeing murder victims in their streets and imagining invading U.S. soldiers.

"I'm afraid because we are small fries and the U.S. will drop a bomb on us," said 14-year-old Evans Paul. "I'm afraid we will get killed."

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