5 Haitians die as march turns violent U.S. copters circle as those on ground call out for help

October 01, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Bill Glauber | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite and Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondents

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- U.S. officials struggled yesterday to explain why U.S. forces stood by while pro-junta paramilitaries violently disrupted a showpiece march for democracy yesterday, ending with five dead and 14 injured.

Among the dead was a Haitian driver for a U.S. television network. Two other U.S. journalists were wounded and were being treated last night aboard the hospital ship USS Comfort. One of the paramilitary "attaches" was chased and captured by the crowd and beaten to death.

Although U.S. officials promised a "significant presence" at the march, marking the third anniversary of the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, there was no sight of U.S. forces along the route, and they chose not to respond to the sudden outbreak of violence.

They were deployed as "a cordon" outside the city center, ceding security in the teeming downtown area to the Haitian police, who have a record of official terrorism.

The police did nothing to stop the violence, and U.S. officials acknowledged after the second bloody incident in 24 hours that they can no longer be relied on to maintain law and order, implying that U.S. troops now will take that role.

"As it becomes increasingly clear that they are not going to do the job, then someone else will have to do it, and that will be us," said Stanley Schrager, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy here.

In the most forceful action of the day, U.S. troops moved overnight to seize the national television and radio stations, which had been broadcasting anti-American items. Officials said the action was taken at the request of the Aristide government.

From Washington, Father Aristide called for restraint among his supporters.

"I taped a message this morning in Creole asking people to move toward reconciliation, not vengeance, and we continue clearly saying neither violence nor vengeance," he said in a television interview.

U.S. military commanders are now studying ways of disarming the paramilitaries, known here as "attaches," and they refused to rule out "a clean-out" of their well-armed downtown headquarters.

"It is clear we are going to do something about it," said Mr. Schrager. "We cannot permit loss of life to continue."

The U.S. troops' failure to show up rocked popular confidence in them as protectors of the people and raised anew questions about their rules of engagement in what threatens to erupt into civil war between the supporters and opponents of democratically elected Father Aristide, who is due to return to power next month.

Watching without action

As the paramilitary attaches attacked the marchers with rocks, sticks and guns, two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters circled overhead. Haitian demonstrators screamed at them to land and help, but the helicopters stayed in the air.

"The Americans are powerless," said Joseph Noel, 32, a construction foreman. "The people are fighting guns with stones. Why aren't the Americans here?"

JTC "Betrayal, betrayal," shouted another demonstrator, beckoning the helicopters down.

Col. Barry Willey, spokesman for the military mission, told reporters: "Obviously I can't explain to your satisfaction why our soldiers didn't respond, only to say their mission was to provide a cordon and allow the Haitian police to do their job."

For more than two hours, the battle ebbed and flowed around the junction of the Rue de l'Enterrement and the Rue du Champs de Mars in downtown Port-au-Prince. The paramilitary attaches have a headquarters on the Champs de Mars and were waiting for the demonstrators, who were marching from a cathedral to a cemetery on the anniversary of the military coup of Sept. 30, 1991.

It was the second bloody provocation by the paramilitary forces here in two days. Thursday, they threw two grenades into a crowd celebrating the impending arrival of Father Aristide, killing at least seven and wounding more than 80.

Rally begins with Mass

Tens of thousands of Aristide supporters attended Mass here before setting out to the cemetery to honor the estimated 5,000 victims of the military dictatorship during the past three years.

For five blocks, the crowd joyously danced and marched to the beat of tin drums and homemade horns. Hundreds cheered from rooftops, and families gathered on porches as the protest became a street festival.

"We cannot be beaten," Daddy Cherisca, 20, shouted as he waved a "Cedras Must Go" sign, referring to strongman Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras.

But at the fateful intersection, the Aristide supporters stopped, and for a few moments, several in the crowd tried to persuade the paramilitaries to let the parade pass.

The pleas were met with stones and shots. And the Aristide supporters responded with a hail of rocks and chunks of smashed concrete, picked up from nearby garbage piles.

One Haitian man was shot in the head at point-blank range, according to witnesses. There were two other bodies lying in an alley.

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