Soft landing for U.S. troops in Haiti 12,000 to join first wave of 3,000 over next few days U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 20, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Bill Glauber | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondents

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- First units of the U.S. intervention force, armed for battle but on a mission of peace, swept into this explosive capital by land and sea, receiving what their commanding general described as a "warm welcome" from the Haitians.

By sundown almost 3,000 troops were ready to help keep the opponents and supporters of returning President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from each other's throats, but as dusk fell, the first public clash occurred between pro-Aristide supporters, demanding the arrest of this island's military leaders, and the junta's paramilitary forces.

It occurred at the gates of the port as the first Americans to land by sea were being driven into the city to take up strategic control points. In front of the U.S. troops, the militia used crowbars to break up the anti-junta demonstration.

The U.S. troops were ordered by President Clinton to help the orderly political transition from military to civilian power and to protect the lives of U.S. citizens. Over the next few days, 12,000 more troops are expected to arrive and fan out across this nation, which is slightly larger than Maryland.

The Haitian army was ordered by its commander, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, to cooperate with the U.S. troops trying to maintain a fragile calm.

Lt. Gen. Henry H. Shelton, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., met with General Cedras and described the atmosphere as "one of cooperation."

He said they discussed techniques and methods of ensuring that forces of the two armies "don't bump into each other accidentally."

He said military planning for the mission, which started almost three months ago, concentrated on reducing the risk of death or injury to U.S. troops. He said: "As commander, one casualty is one too many. We planned every way we could to reduce the risks associated with this operation."

The U.S. and Haitian military commanders ordered their staffs to work immediately on the deployment of U.S. forces in and around Port-au-Prince.

Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, the Haitian army chief of staff, was also at the meeting. Missing was the third member of the military leadership, police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois, who was rumored to have gone into hiding.

A central fear was that civil war could easily erupt. General Shelton said the U.S. mission was "to prevent civil disturbances wherever we can," but he said he hoped that the Haitian military would "handle their internal disturbances with their own forces."

'A scary peace'

Emmanuel Reyme, first secretary of the Haitian Chamber of Deputies, said, "It's a peace, but a scary peace."

A small, trim figure with piercing eyes and disarmingly pleasant demeanor, he expressed the bitterness and anxiety that is coursing through much of the political and military establishment here over the impending transfer of power from the generals to the democratically elected president they ousted three years ago.

"I guarantee if you have Aristide here tomorrow, the day after, you will see thousands of people die," he said. "There will be civil war."

Mr. Aristide "is a murderer, liar, hypocrite" he said, recalling that the priest used to be one of his best friends and was the only person to visit him when he was in prison in 1985 for opposing the regime of Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier.

The two had a falling out after Mr. Reyme became a critic of Father Aristide's policies. Twice in 1991, according to Mr. Reyme, Aristide forces tried to assassinate him.

He warned that if one Haitian was killed during the U.S. intervention, the chamber would not pass the new amnesty law that is central to the agreement reached Sunday night between former President Jimmy Carter and General Cedras.

The accord called on General Cedras to resign as army commander once an amnesty law, protecting top military

commanders from prosecution and exile, is passed by the

Parliament, or by Oct. 15 if no law is passed.

Danger to Americans

Another danger is that the junta's supporters could launch attacks on the estimated 3,000 U.S. citizens here. General Shelton said General Cedras identified some areas of the town where he was particularly concerned about the safety of Americans.

General Shelton did not disclose which areas General Cedras mentioned, but the smart suburb of Petionville overlooking the impoverished capital is where most U.S. citizens in Haiti live and where most American journalists are staying. Residents there have been awakened the past two nights by occasional small arms fire.

General Shelton said the Haitian commander had promised "to cooperate fully" and to use his own forces to help protect Americans.

One of the keys to success is an economic recovery package. Inside the Ministry of Finance, where it will be implemented, an official said that the departure of General Cedras would be "a good thing."

"I think it is necessary for all of us," said Marc Pierre. "We have suffered a lot. The economy of Haiti is so bad, I can't even talk about it."

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