Another town falls to rebels in Haiti, police chief killed, border closed


PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) – Armed Haitian rebels seized a central town and killed the district police chief as an uprising against embattled President Jean Bertrand Aristide spread to new areas of the country.



The Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, announced meanwhile that it was closing the border because of the worsening rebellion in its impoverished western neighbor.

The decision came after several men killed two Dominican soldiers over the weekend. Dominicans had previously allowed Haitians to shop on the Dominican side of the border each Monday and Friday.

The closure of the frontier came as the central Haiti town of Hinche fell to rebels demanding the ouster of Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who was first elected president in 1991.

Three people, including police chief Jonas Maxime, were slain by armed rebels in an attack on a police station in Hinche, 130 kilometers (80 miles) northeast of the capital Port-au-Prince, local radio reports and residents said.

By nightfall, Hinche, a town of 87,000 inhabitants, was in the hands of rebel forces, local radio said, and the local police force had retreated to the town of Mirebalais, 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Hinche.

The attack on the Hinche police station was led by Louis-Jodel Chamblain, leader of a feared paramilitary group under former Haitian military dictator Raoul Cedras, who ruled the country from 1991-94, according to local radio.

The latest killings pushed the death toll since February 5, when rebels seized the northern city of Gonaives, to more than 55. The town of some 200,000 remains in rebel hands.

The fall of Hinche came after two rebels were killed overnight in the northern city of Saint-Marc, 95 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital.

An associate of the dead men, Jodesty Auguste, said the two had been members of an armed group opposed to Aristide’s rule. He claimed they were slain by a pro-government group.

Despite violence elsewhere, the streets of Haiti‘s capital were calm Monday following a protest here Sunday by some 1,000 people against Aristide’s government.

Meanwhile, a rebel leader reiterated his opposition to violent overthrow of Haiti‘s government, saying his group would resort only to “legal, peaceful” means in its bid to sweep Aristide from power.

“We affirm our commitment to a peaceful struggle and we will use every peaceful means available to us under the constitution” Serge Gilles, a rebel leader, told AFP.

Gilles noted however, that some opposition factions have not renounced violence in their bid to topple Aristide, whose popularity has plummeted following elections in 2000 tainted by fraud charges.

“There are two opposition factions — one committed to the rule of law, which we belong to, and the other violent, which we don’t approve of,” Gilles said.

He spoke as the United States said it would keep working within multilateral institutions in hopes of bringing a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

“We support the restoration of democratic practices, human rights, and rule of law as called for in the Organization of American States resolutions,” said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan.



“The United States is working with hemispheric partners to address the situation. We are grateful for the efforts of the CARICOM to promote a peaceful resolution,” Buchan added, referring to mediation efforts by the 15-nation Caribbean community.

The European Union (newsweb sites) on Monday said it was “greatly concerned” about the unrest in Haiti and called on Aristide to respect a regional peace plan.

“The European Union is greatly concerned at the recent outbreaks of violence in a number of provincial towns,” said a statement issued by the EU’s Irish presidency. “It calls on all political forces, without exception, to refrain from any kind of violent behaviour.”