Haiti junta beginning to crack

October 05, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti's dictatorship went into its death throes yesterday as the first member of the three-man military junta fled into voluntary exile, and the leader of the country's most brutal terror organization publicly renounced violence.

Police chief Lt. Col. Michel Francois, who initiated the coup against democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide three years ago, crossed the border into the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

"His departure represents a major step forward in creating a stable and secure environment for democratic institutions to return to this country," said Stanley Schrager, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy.

"I would hope it would accelerate the departure of the others."

The others are Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the army commander, and his chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby. They have agreed to cede power when the Haitian Parliament, which is now in session, passes an amnesty law or by Oct. 15 at the latest.

They are not bound to leave the country, but U.S. officials said yesterday that they expected that the two remaining coup leaders would, like Colonel Francois, choose exile in the next few days for their own safety, clearing the way for Father Aristide's return.

"It has been our belief for a while that they would feel better if they left," said Mr. Schrager.

"They would have no significant role to play in the politics of this country over the next few years. We hope they will leave."

Another U.S. diplomat, involved in organizing the transition from military dictatorship to democratic government, said: "If I had committed the crimes and sins that are alleged to have been committed by these folks, I would not want to sit around here."

Colonel Francois entered the Dominican Republic yesterday morning, after being initially denied permission to cross the border, Dominican officials told the Reuters news agency.

Dominican sources told Reuters that the Haitian police chief spent the night in his luxury four-wheel-drive vehicle with his wife, driver, secretary and a lieutenant in the Haitian intelligence service.

The sources said Colonel Francois entered with a tourist visa, not as a refugee seeking political asylum.

He left behind a resignation letter that was read on local radio. "It was not for me to juggle with the destiny of the country," he wrote. "I am proud of myself."

FRAPH renounces violence

In another major step from dictatorship to democracy here, Emmanuel "To-To" Constant, the head of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), publicly urged his weapons-toting members to lay down their arms. Just last Friday, they broke up a peaceful pro-democracy march, killing five and injuring more than 60 others.

"No more violence," said Mr. Constant, who is reputed to have ordered dozens of political killings. "Now is the time to stand up and be counted as Haitian patriots. The country is dying. We have to save it.

"Violence no longer has a place in our society. I am asking everyone to put down their guns, to put down their tires."

His mention of "tires" was a reference to the act of "necklacing" opponents with gasoline-filled auto tires, a practice Father Aristide appeared to have endorsed in a controversial speech a few days before he was ousted on Sept. 30, 1991.

Witnessing the FRAPH leader's declaration was Ira Kirzban, a Miami lawyer representing the Aristide government here. He said: "I think it represents a step backward. For Constant to come up here, then not be arrested, and have all this orchestrated -- unfortunately by our government -- is a step backward.

"It's like Al Capone getting up and making a speech about democracy and nonviolence. Would anyone believe him?

"To suggest that Constant would overnight turn into a democrat is insulting to the Haitian people and to the Americans here who are risking their lives in this country."

Mr. Constant called on FRAPH, the political wing of the army, to remain politically, but peacefully, mobilized and to prepare for next year's presidential elections. He said: "We are asking everybody to participate in the transition. . . . I want all to know that, if President Aristide returns, he will have the support of FRAPH in a constructive opposition.

U.S. officials went to extraordinary lengths yesterday to stage Mr. Constant's public conversion from terrorist thug to law-abiding democrat. Mr. Schrager, the U.S. Embassy spokesman, who was previously under an assassination threat from Mr. Constant, announced the timing and venue of the event.

The embassy provided the podium and loudspeaker system for Mr. Constant to renounce violence in front of a crowd of thousands of jeering citizens in this capital's main square. And U.S. troops provided security for Mr. Constant against a crowd that appeared ready to tear him limb by limb.

"Assassin," they screamed. "Murderer." "Criminal."

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