Grenade attack kills five Haitians U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

September 30, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE HAITI — PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- At least five Haitians were killed and more than 40 injured when two grenades were thrown into a crowd celebrating the return of democracy yesterday.

The grenades were thrown at a crowd of several thousand who had just witnessed the return of freely elected Mayor Evans Paul to his post in City Hall. No U.S. troops were injured in the attack. It appeared to be a bloody provocation by pro-junta forces on the eve of the anniversary of the 1991 military coup that toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The bombing was opposite the La Saline slum, where Father Aristide had worked as a parish priest before his election as president in 1990. It immediately changed the atmosphere in this teeming city from one of joy and anticipation to one of anger and bitterness, casting U.S. troops into an increasingly dangerous position between the forces of democracy and supporters of dictatorship.

U.S. troops will be out in force today for the mass march to mark the anniversary of the coup, which is expected to bring tens of thousands of Haitians into the streets.

Until yesterday's attack, U.S officials were confident that today's demonstration would be peaceful, but last night Ambassador William Spring appealed to supporters of exiled Father Aristide to avoid violence and retribution.

Mr. Swing told reporters: "In a society such as Haiti, which is undergoing fundamental change, seeking to go from years and years of authoritarian rule to a participatory government, such brutal acts of violence are not totally surprising."

He said the "enemies of democracy and the forces of the status quo" would continue to resort 'to any ends and means" to stop the return of democracy. Father Aristide is due to return home next month after Haitian army commander Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and the other coup leaders step down.

Gen. Hugh Shelton, commander of the U.S.-led intervention force here, is expected to make a strong protest to General Cedras over yesterday's attack, and demand that he maintain law and order.

Stanley Schrager, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, said that Haitian police, who beat a demonstrator to death last week, would be in charge of security for today's demonstration, but he added: "We are not going to leave the demonstrators in their hands. We will have a significant American presence at this march.

"What we would like to see is a peaceful demonstration with no provocation, no incidents, no injuries. If there is any message in recent events, it is that the United States will not be deterred. We will continue to work to bring about a safe and secure environment for the re-establishment of democratic government in this country."

The explosion yesterday was precisely the sort of act that the U.S. command here has been dreading.

A U.S. military convoy was passing the scene but was not attacked. The troops took cover, called for reinforcements and then fired automatic weapons into three buildings as they searched for the attackers, believed to be pro-junta paramilitaries.

Within minutes, hundreds of U.S. troops, guns cocked, converged on the dusty road that leads from the port to the airport, clearing the area around the bodies that lay strewn where they fell. A Black Hawk helicopter gunship hovered overhead.

"There was no firing at the Americans, or if they were shooting at us they were bad shots. None of my vehicles was hit," said Special Forces Col. Mike Sullivan, who was at the scene. "There was no exchange of fire."

Hundreds of Haitians were forced back along the road to allow Red Cross ambulances, sirens wailing, yellow lamps flashing, to pick up the wounded and cover the dead. At least three bodies were covered with tarpaulins.

A Red Cross official said they were too busy treating the wounded to move the dead.

Several Haitians were arrested, one after being identified as a paramilitary and beaten by the crowd. His hands bound behind his back,his body bruised and muddied, he was forced to the ground by a U.S. military police officer before being taken away.

The attack came within hours of the emotional re-installation of Mr. Paul as mayor of Port-au-Prince, after three years in hiding and several attempts on his life.

The public re-entry of the charismatic politician into the city was a moment of high emotion and important symbolism. It was the latest thread in the fabric of democracy being put together daily here, and was meant to reassure an edgy population that power was being transferred peacefully.

jTC In another effort to project a return to normality, electricity output for the capital city was doubled last night after U.S. military engineers repaired and refueled the generators that were stilled by the international embargo's blockage of fuel and spare parts.

The return of power was meant to be a popular prelude to today's march, but it was overshadowed by the grenade attack.

This, according to eyewitnesses, is what happened:

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