Legislators meet amnesty to be No. 1 topic U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 29, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Under the protection of U.S. troops, the Haitian Parliament met yesterday for the first time in 16 months as legislators came out of hiding to try to speed the end of the military dictatorship by granting amnesty.

As the emergency session got under way, one of a group of demonstrators taunting pro-junta paramilitary forces was shot nearby.

But generally the atmosphere was one of excitement and joy at this first manifestation of a return to democracy that is to climax with President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return from the United States next month.

Parliament was convened by President Aristide to consider offering protection from prosecution to the military and police officers who seized power from him in a coup d'etat Sept. 30, 1991.

The anniversary of the coup tomorrow is expected to bring thousands of Haitians into the streets of this and other cities in the country's largest demonstration since Father Aristide's election in December 1990.

But unless there is a radical change of mood, or unless the paramilitary and security forces provoke incidents, the anniversary should pass without widespread violence, according to observers.

The crowd outside the Parliament yesterday cheered legislators who had flown in from exile in the United States or come out of hiding in the provinces here for the extraordinary session.

The fact that both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate were able to muster a quorum and conduct business beyond the control of the military junta was itself a landmark.

Until now, the military has bribed or scared legislators away. For months the Parliament has been unable to assemble enough members to conduct business legitimately.

U.S. forces, who ringed the building but -- for obvious reasons -- did not enter it, were instructed to bar entry to nine senators who were elected in illegal elections organized by the military in January 1993.

The session lasted only 90 minutes before adjourning until today. The debate on how broad the amnesty should be is likely to be passionate.

"Some people want to give a political amnesty, and there are others who want to consider a general amnesty because of the gravity," said Yves Pericles Beauge, a member of the Chamber of Deputies. A political amnesty would cover the leadership, but a general amnesty would cover all crimes committed under the dictatorship, which has terrorized this society.

Gary Guiteau, another deputy, said: "I can't give amnesty to assassins."

It was not clear when the Parliament might take final action on the issue, which could determine how quickly the military leader, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, leaves office. Under an agreement with former President Jimmy Carter, General Cedras agreed to step down after an amnesty law was passed or by Oct. 15 at the latest.

General Cedras, as army commander-in-chief, had the right to attend yesterday's session, but did not show up. U.S. officials still expect him to go into exile once he steps down, arguing that with his record there is little but the danger of reprisal awaiting him here.

The shooting yesterday came as a crowd of pro-Aristide demonstrators approached the headquarters of the army's political wing, the FRAPH. As the crowded cheered and shouted slogans, a gun was fired, and one demonstrator was hit in the chest.

U.S. troops who heard the shot moved cautiously to the area as a helicopter gun ship hovered overhead. They took the man to hospital. Another man was detained.

Elsewhere in the city, crowds milled around food centers, attempting to continue the looting that broke out Tuesday. At RTC one point, a message was received at the headquarters of the Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services that a crowd of 60 was trying to break down the door of its downtown storehouse.

When officials got there, students who normally receive food were protecting the building from a hungry crowd. Because of the threat of looting, the U.S. Agency for International Development yesterday suspended deliveries to its 2,500 food stations for several days.

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