Cedras to cede power today

October 10, 1994|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Sun Staff Correspondent

PORT-AU-PRINCE — PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haitian dictator Lt. Gen. Raoul RTC Cedras will step down today, ending three years of military rule and terror here and clearing the way for the return of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide later this week.

In a plan approved Saturday by Washington, General Cedras will be replaced by the army's No. 2 man, Maj. Gen. Jean-Claude Duperval, said Col. Jean-Robert Gabriel, a spokesman for the Haitian high command.

Also set to leave is Brig. Gen. Philippe Biamby, the army chief of staff and a leader of the September 1991 coup that ousted Father Aristide.

The handover will occur this morning at a military ceremony in front of the army headquarters in downtown Port-au-Prince, Colonel Gabriel said yesterday afternoon.

General Cedras' plans after today were uncertain. Haiti's

constitution bans forced exile, but U.S. officials hope that he and General Biamby will leave Haiti, and they have hinted that the military leaders might not be safe if they stayed.

Last week, the Haitian Parliament approved a limited amnesty law, not the sweeping pardon demanded by General Cedras. The law protects the military from prosecution of political offenses, such as the 1991 coup against Father Aristide, but it does not shield soldiers from prosecution for civil crimes, such as the rapes and murders of Aristide supporters since the takeover.

If General Cedras does leave, he likely would go to Spain with his wife, Yannick, and three children, U.S. officials said.

Before yesterday's announcement, the U.S. military commander here, Lt. Gen. Henry Hugh Shelton, spent an hour with General Cedras in the Haitian leader's hilltop home. Neither would talk to reporters, but it was widely assumed that the final departure details were thrashed out.

On Saturday, General Cedras met with Defense Secretary William J. Perry and Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who were here for a daylong visit with the troops.

They discussed arrangements for the transition from military to civilian power. On Wednesday, General Cedras' three-year term as army commander-in-chief will formally end, enabling him to claim a vestige of dignity for his departure.

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher said yesterday that the transition would "pick up even more momentum and steam" this week. He said Generals Cedras and Biamby were about to leave power "and I think, as a practical matter, that they will leave the country."

U.S. officials want Father Aristide to return as quickly as possible to control what could be an extremely explosive and dangerous situation.

For Father Aristide the biggest immediate challenge will be to keep his supporters calm, while overseeing the revival of a country politically intimidated by decades of dictatorship and economically flattened by an international embargo. The United Nations Security Council has already voted to lift the embargo the day after Father Aristide returns.

The central fear is that the widespread joy at his return could turn into anger and revenge, releasing a wave of bloody street justice against the elite, which backed and benefited from the military regime.

Continued violence against Aristide supporters has fueled the hatred. Yesterday, Aristide supporters were saddened by news yesterday that an outspoken pro-Aristide artist, Stevenson Magloire, 31, was beaten to death in daylight by members of a military-allied gang and by reports that another vehicle was driven into a pro-Aristide demonstration, killing 14 people.

Yesterday a group of international police monitors, led by former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, rescued a pro-junta supporter from being beaten to death by pro-Aristide supporters.

Another problem to be dealt with this week is the fate of Emile Jonaissant, the military-appointed president who still occupies the Presidential Palace. He is expected to follow the generals into retirement, but U.S. troops will be ordered to remove him forcibly if he refuses to go voluntarily.

They will also remove the de facto government ministers from their offices, if necessary, so that Father Aristide's appointed Cabinet can take over. "Preparations have to be made," said a U.S. diplomat. "This is not something you can turn on in 24 hours."

The appointment of General Duperval, 47, to be the next army commander was approved by Father Aristide, who apparently overlooked questions surrounding the general.

During much of Father Aristide's seven-month administration in 1991, General Duperval was under suspicion for doing too little to stop a January 1991 takeover attempt by former Interior Minister Roger Lafontant.

A popular uprising stopped the Lafontant coup and allowed Father Aristide, elected overwhelmingly in December 1990, to take office in February 1991.

General Duperval headed the Port-au-Prince police at the time of the Lafontant coup, moving up to the position of army assistant commander under military chief General Cedras. But his power was eclipsed by a fast-rising assistant, General Biamby, who became General Cedras' right-hand man.

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