Haiti appeals for help to end violent uprising

But officials in France, U.S. and U.N. show little interest in intervention

February 18, 2004|By Maggie Farley | Maggie Farley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

UNITED NATIONS - Haiti's premier appealed yesterday for international help to end the violent uprising in his country, but officials in Washington, Paris and at the United Nations offered limited assistance, saying Haitians themselves must decide whether the government stays in power.

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said his government was in danger of being toppled and asked the international community "to show that it really wants peace and stability in Haiti."

"We are witnessing the coup d'etat machine in motion," he told reporters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital.

But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the United States, which sent in soldiers to restore President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power in 1994 after he was ousted in a coup, is interested in providing only political support this time.

"There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence that we are seeing," Powell said in Washington. "What we want to do right now is find a political solution," which could be backed up by an international police presence, he said.

More than 50 people have been killed in Haiti since anti-Aristide forces rose up Feb. 5 in the city of Gonaives, seizing a police station. Violent clashes have spread to other areas.

Witnesses said 50 rebels led by former death squad leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain descended on the central city of Hinche on Monday, freeing prisoners, burning the police station and killing the chief and two officers.

The attackers also burned down police stations in nearby towns of Pandiassou and Maissade, they said.

Residents staged a demonstration yesterday in favor of the rebels, who set up camp outside the town but returned throughout the day, Radio Metropole reported.

Airlines in Port-au-Prince canceled flights to the northern port of Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, after witnesses in the barricaded city saw a boat approach and rumors swept the town that rebels were about to attack.

The muted response to Neptune's plea for aid underscored the international conundrum about helping Haiti: Aristide, a once-revered former priest from the slums who became the country's first democratically elected president in 1990 has frittered away his goodwill.

Aristide won the presidency in late 2000 in a vote boycotted by the opposition, which feared a repeat of violence that marred a parliamentary election earlier that year. Critics say he has created a brutal paramilitary to shut down the political opposition, and that fair elections cannot occur until he steps - or is pushed - aside.

Yet, Washington and other countries say they cannot condone the use of force by Aristide's opponents to remove him.

"Certainly there needs to be some changes in the way Haiti is governed and the security situation as well," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in a briefing aboard Air Force One. But he added, "That's a matter for the people of Haiti to decide."

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin summoned ministers for an urgent meeting to discuss ways to help stabilize the former French colony, where about 2,000 French citizens still live.

"Can we deploy a peacekeeping force?" he said on French radio. "We are in contact with all of our partners in the framework of the United Nations, which has sent a humanitarian mission to Haiti to see what is possible."

But de Villepin noted that military intervention would be "very difficult" and urged Aristide to address his opponents' complaints about his governance. "President Aristide let his country drift away year after year," de Villepin said. "It is now time that he finds the strength to move toward dialogue."

French diplomats at the United Nations said there is no plan to take the issue to the Security Council to authorize a peacekeeping force, but there are discussions among French-speaking countries about how to help.

At the United Nations, Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday that he is "extremely concerned" about Haiti, and that the United Nations will become more "actively engaged" there. While Annan seems to have ruled out sending in peacekeepers, he could name a special envoy in the next few days to help mediate between rival factions and coordinate with the Caribbean Community and the Organization of American States.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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