U.S. troops to guard Haiti's lawmakers as they return to vote on amnesty bill

September 27, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- U.S. troops will guard members of Haiti's Parliament today as they come out of hiding for tomorrow's first legitimate session of the national legislature in more than three years.

And when the voting starts, they will bar some members who were elected in polling after the ouster of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and who are thus considered illegal lawmakers.

Father Aristide has ordered Prime Minister Robert Malval to reconvene the Parliament to pass a new amnesty law to protect the military dictators here from prosecution for their actions during three years of terror.

Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and other members of the junta have agreed to cede power once an amnesty law is passed or by Oct. 15 at the latest.

General Cedras will be free to attend the parliamentary session, but troops will block the entry of nine senators elected in illegal polling in January 1992 after Father Aristide was overthrown. Both the United States and the United Nations regard them as illegal representatives.

In a countermove, the military-controlled government said it was calling back its Parliament for next Tuesday for an amnesty vote.

The Clinton administration has offered to provide transportation and security for the 10 members of the Chamber of Deputies and the single senator who are living in exile and for the nine deputies and four senators who are in hiding in the provinces here. All have been in hiding in fear for their lives.

The 83-member Chamber of Deputies and the 27-member Senate will both have to approve the new amnesty law, a key step in this country's transition from military to civilian rule.

To counter the impression that the United States is controlling political events here, U.S. troops will not be stationed inside the parliament building or its chambers as the debate takes place. They will be on guard outside.

The main danger is that Haitian security or paramilitary forces, who still have their small arms and feel increasingly humiliated and angered by the deliberate display of overwhelming U.S. force here, might be tempted to attack the politicians who are about to retake power.

'Series of calming events'

The repatriation of the first volunteers from Guantanamo, and the reopening of Parliament and City Hall are part of a carefully planned "series of calming events," meant to reassure an edgy population, according to a senior U.S. official here.

The official, who declined to be identified but who has been intimately involved in the planning for the return of the Aristide government, said: "We have to do a lot of calming things. The flip side is that any one of these events could become a flash point. There is enough built-in hatred in this country, you can easily ignite something that is going to require a major security cleanup. Somehow a feeling of reconciliation has to be instilled in this society."

Behind the scenes, small steps are also being taken to prepare for the transition of power. Mr. Aris- tide's private home, trashed by the dictatorship, is being repaired.

The Haitian army has been ordered to clean up the nation's official guest house and it is already being used for political caucuses as the first steps toward the formation of a new government are taken.

Military engineers have inspected the capital's two diesel-fueled power stations, which have been suffering from shortages of fuel and spare parts because of the embargo. They hope to have them running efficiently later this week or next.

But the parliamentary session tomorrow will be the most dramatic evidence of this country's hesitant but accelerating return to some semblance of political, social and economic normality.

It will be followed later this week by the emergence from hiding of Evans Paul, the mayor of this capital city, which is in need of everything from food to electricity, from water to medicines. U.S. troops will also protect Mr. Paul, who has been attacked by paramilitary forces several times.

All this political activity is creating its own danger: a ground swell of popular joy that threatens to erupt into violence, with excitable crowds exacting bloody street justice on the security forces who have terrorized the population here for the past three years.

To lessen the danger of violence, the United States will start today a weapons-buyback program to reduce the number of armaments in circulation here. Handguns will fetch $50, semiautomatics $100, automatics $200 and heavier weapons $300. The program will start at Port-au-Prince airport and extend to other parts of the country over the coming days.

Col. Barry Willey, the U.S. military spokesman here, said: "The goal of the program is to remove illegal and unregistered weapons in order to have a more stable and secure environment."

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