Aristide urges foreign intervention

Haitian leader foresees mass deaths, exodus

foes dismiss U.S.-backed plan

February 25, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - President Jean-Bertrand Aristide begged the world community yesterday to rescue Haiti from an intensifying crisis that he said raised the specter of mass deaths and could propel waves of "boat people" to U.S. shores.

In the past week, more than 400 Haitian refugees reportedly have landed on beaches in Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos Islands. U.S. officials said they haven't seen signs of an imminent flood of refugees to Florida.

"I ask the international community to hurry up and prevent the flow of blood," Aristide said in the tense, eerily quiet capital. "I ask the international community to hurry up and augment the number of policemen. Hurry, hurry to stop the terrorists."

A few hours later, political foes said they would reject a U.S.-backed peace proposal that would diminish Aristide's power but allow him to remain in office.

"We're looking for something that says Aristide will leave," said Charles Baker, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Platform. He said a formal letter of rejection would be delivered this morning.

Also yesterday, hints began emerging that Aristide's government could be fracturing.

Government spokesman Mario Dupuy said Jean-Claude Jean-Baptiste, the secretary of state for social affairs, had traveled to an undisclosed country "for health reasons."

Radio stations reported that former Sen. Prince Sonson Pierre, an Aristide supporter, left the country, but that couldn't be independently verified.

Meanwhile, advances on the ground by anti-government forces threatened to overtake all events on the political front.

Police rushed 50 heavily armed special forces agents to St. Marc yesterday amid rumors that rebels would attack the western port city. Late Monday, the government apparently lost control of Port-de-Paix as bandits set fire to a police station and other buildings in the northern city.

At least 70 people have been killed and many dozens wounded in clashes that began three weeks ago between rebels and Aristide's police and other defenders. Thus far, rebel forces have pushed the government out of most of northern and central Haiti.

Rebel leaders - heady with success, still targeting the capital of Port-au-Prince and largely unaligned with Aristide's political opponents - emphasized that they would accept nothing less than Aristide's ouster.

"We want the target - him - alive," rebel leader Guy Philippe said in an interview in Cap Haitien, the northern city that his forces seized Sunday.

Though a measure of calm seemed to return to Cap Haitien, rebels there shot and killed one young man who allegedly assaulted an insurgent, and some Aristide supporters were still being detained there.

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