Sun Mar 28, 2004 01:41 PM ET
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – A notorious Haitian paramilitary leader who helped lead a bloody revolt that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide says he will kill the former president if he ever returns from exile.
“If Aristide comes tomorrow I will have 15,000, 20,000 Haitians armed to fight him and kill him as he killed my wife,” Louis Jodel Chamblain, accused of heading death squads during years of dictatorship and military rule in the late 1980s and early 1990s, told Reuters.
The former army officer convicted of murder said in an interview late Saturday at a plush, well-guarded hilltop retreat just outside Port-au-Prince that he sees himself as a patriotic leader of the Haitian people on a mission to stamp out Aristide’s following.
Chamblain, who returned from a decade in exile in neighboring Dominican Republic to lead last month’s uprising, accuses Aristide of ordering thugs to murder his seven-months pregnant wife in 1991 and vows he will never let another like him lead Haiti.
“I came to fight to get rid of this criminal from power to put an end to drug trafficking and terrorism (by Aristide supporters) in this country,” he added. “I will not let (gangs loyal to Aristide) terrorize my people. I call on them to lay down arms.”
Marauding pro-Aristide gangs have started to hand over small caches of weapons to police as part of a disarmament drive, but the vast majority remain armed, fearing reprisals from right-wing Chamblain’s rebels.
SUSPECTED OF MASSACRE
Chamblain is suspected of taking part in a 1987 election massacre in which 34 voters were killed. He was convicted in 1995 in absentia of the 1993 murder of a prominent pro-Aristide businessman who was dragged out of a church service and shot in the head.
The now defunct paramilitary Front for the Advancement of Progress of the Haitian People he co-founded in 1993 was blamed for 3,000 of the estimated 5,000 killings in the three years after a military junta ousted Aristide in 1991.
Chamblain laughs at Amnesty International’s calls for his arrest, accuses the rights group of a witch-hunt and says his conscience is clean.
“I am ready to present myself before the courts when there is a justice system in my country,” Chamblain said, referring to courts and police in disarray after the revolt in which more than 200 people died.
“How many people did I kill? Where are the bodies? What did I kill them with? Why didn’t police arrest me at the time? Why didn’t the courts seek my arrest?” he said, sipping a soft drink as armed aides hovered nearby.
Chamblain and rebels in control of swaths of Haiti’s rural north are able to move around unhindered by a U.N.-backed multinational military force and local police. New Haitian National Police chief Leon Charles says detaining the likes of Chamblain is “over my head.”
But the rebel leader says he is working with the new government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue to integrate his cadres into the Haitian police force given Aristide disbanded the army and there is no money to set up a new one — one of Chamblain’s long-term goals.
Aristide — a champion of the poor majority but accused of corruption by his opponents — accuses the United States of forcing him into exile against his will, and rights groups are up in arms at U.S. support for the ouster of a democratically elected leader.
“I say thank you very much to the American people, to French President Jacques Chirac, to the Canadian people … for seeing the situation Haiti was in and taking on a historic responsibility,” Chamblain smiled.