Originally: Haitian government reclaims 2 towns, but revolt persists

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The government of President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide appeared to regain ground
yesterday in its effort to quell an armed uprising,
retaking two of nearly a dozen towns seized by rebels
seeking to force Aristide from office.

Government officials said the Haitian National Police,
outnumbered and outgunned in recent days, had control
of the central coast city of St. Marc, captured by
antigovernment rebels two days earlier. Police also
reoccupied the town of Grande-Goave along Haiti’s
southern finger with no reported casualties.

But the government faced a fresh assault in the north
where fighting erupted on the outskirts of
Cap-Haitien, the country’s second-largest city, which
has remained relatively calm throughout a four-day
armed insurrection. Rebels briefly seized the police
station in Dondon, just outside the city. Officials
said they were overwhelmed by a combination of police
troops and members of a pro-Aristide militia, which
has augmented the thinly stretched government forces
in recent days.

“The population in both cities is for peace, safety,
and security.” said Yvon Neptune, Haiti’s prime
minister, in a telephone interview after visiting St.
Marc and Grande-Goave. “That’s why the population has
welcomed back the police.”

But the mixed results underscored the challenges
facing the police force as it attempts to put down the
uprising, which began Thursday in Gonaives, Haiti’s
fourth-largest city. The battle is the biggest
challenge to Aristide’s rule since his second
inauguration three years ago.

Although the heart of the rebellion was confined to
cities along Haiti’s central coast, leaders of the
armed group said yesterday that as many as 11 police
stations in towns across the country have come under
their control.

Aristide, a former priest, came to power after defying
the Duvalier family, which was overthrown in 1986
following three decades of dictatorial rule. Aristide
became Haiti’s first freely elected president in 1990,
only to be ousted nine months later in a military
coup. The United States sent troops to Haiti in 1994
to restore his administration, resisted at the time by
a paramilitary force sponsored by the ruling military
junta. Aristide served out the remainder of his term,
and was reelected in November 2000 on a populist
pledge to lift up Haiti’s downtrodden.

But groups opposed to his government have coalesced
into a potent force against his cash-starved
administration over the past two years.

The rebel group calls itself the Revolutionary
Artibonite Resistance Front, and says it is the armed
wing of a civic movement of business leaders,
students, and other Haitians who have been calling for
Aristide’s resignation for months. Some of their
rallies have turned bloody recently after coming under
attack by groups linked to Aristide’s ruling Lavalas

At least 40 people have died during the recent
uprising, which government officials contend is part
of an orchestrated effort.

The US government has been at odds with Aristide’s
government since legislative elections in 2000 that
were widely considered fraudulent. The State
Department issued a statement yesterday condemning the
recent violence and encouraging talks between Aristide
and the opposition.