Haitian rebel vows to disarm his forces

U.S. and French troops patrol streets of capital

March 04, 2004|By Michael Deibert and Tina Susman | Michael Deibert and Tina Susman,NEWSDAY

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Rebel leader Guy Philippe promised yesterday to disarm his forces after White House pressure to do so, and French troops and U.S. Marines began patrolling the streets of the Haitian capital in an effort to fill the security void in the city.

With scores of armed thugs loyal to the ousted president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, still on the loose, though, Haitians worried about renewed lawlessness.

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, whose residence was guarded by Marines in armored personnel carriers, announced a state of emergency, giving police and government officials wide powers of arrest and the right to ban public demonstrations.

Efforts to build a United Nations-approved peacekeeping force for Haiti were set back when the 15-nation Caribbean Community trading bloc announced that it would refuse to contribute troops.

Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, speaking for the bloc, said it was "extremely disappointed" in the United States' and other nations' response to the Haiti crisis, which began Feb. 5 when Philippe's rebels began an uprising against Aristide's government.

Rebel forces quickly took over half the country, forcing Aristide to flee into exile Sunday. Only then did the United Nations approve a multinational force, something it should have done earlier to help Aristide, Patterson said.

After looting and violence engulfed the capital Sunday, the rebels marched in and began acting as a police force, bringing calm but raising questions about their role in the country's future. On Monday, Philippe declared himself the military chief, but U.S. officials said that with Aristide gone, the rebels should disarm.

At a news conference yesterday after a meeting with U.S. Ambassador James Foley, Philippe backed down.

"As President Aristide was the principal problem for democracy and for the people ... and now that foreign soldiers are protecting the Haitian people, we will lay down our arms," Philippe said. "This is a decision made for the benefit of the Haitian people."

He said his followers would turn over their weapons to Aristide's constitutional successor, Boniface Alexandre, and that he would go today to Haiti's second-largest city, Cap Haitien, to ensure that rebels disarm there as well.

Aristide remained in exile in the Central African Republic, where he had flown in a U.S. government-chartered jet, unable to find a country that will grant him permanent residence.

Disarming the rebels puts greater pressure on the more than 500 Marines in Haiti, along with about 300 French and Canadian peacekeepers, to police the streets and protect key sites such as the National Palace, the port and government officials' residences.

The Marines moved out of their bivouac at the presidential palace yesterday in a first reconnaissance mission since they began arriving Sunday.

They walked and drove machine-gun mounted Humvees 30 blocks over trash-strewn streets.

Marine vehicles pushed burned cars from roads, and riflemen watched for signs of resistance. Encountering none, the Marines returned to the palace that had been the seat of Aristide's power before his departure Sunday, marking the second time he had been deposed.

The Pentagon said U.S. forces will not engage armed Haitian fighters unless fired upon.

According to the Pentagon, the Marines were deployed to contribute to a secure environment in Port-au-Prince and promote a constitutional political process in the wake of Aristide's resignation.

They will help with the delivery of humanitarian aid as needed and protect U.S. citizens in Haiti, according to a Pentagon statement released Sunday.

But Marines flexed their might Tuesday afternoon when rebels drove to the airport in a pickup and an SUV and announced that they were looking for Neptune and other officials. The Marines came out in two Humvees mounted with .50-caliber machine guns. The rebels quickly left, said Staff Sgt. Christopher Smith.

"As soon as we rolled up, they beat it out of there," Smith said.

The death toll in the rebellion has continued to rise despite Aristide's ouster, reaching at least 130 yesterday as workers at the Port-au-Prince hospital said 30 more bodies had been brought to the morgue since Sunday.

Haiti's political opposition groups, who had pushed for Aristide's ouster but were not affiliated with the armed rebels, called on foreign powers to provide greater security.

"They need to provide the president with enough security that he feels he can do something," said Charles Baker of the Democratic Platform, a coalition of groups that opposed Aristide.

Haitians on the capital's streets, which have become more crowded as businesses reopen and people emerge from their homes, seemed to welcome foreign troops, as long as they bring security. "If they can make things safe, then, yes, I'll accept them," said one.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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