Originally: Americans in Haiti urged to leave

Published on: 02/19/04

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vowed Thursday to give his own life in the fight for his country’s shaky democracy as U.S. officials urged American citizens to leave Haiti and dispatched a military team to assess the security of the U.S. Embassy.
Washington stepped up pressure for a negotiated settlement between the government and rebel leaders, although Secretary of State Colin Powell said the plan would not call on Aristide to step down before his term ends in February 2006.
Also Thursday, a band of rebels declared their independence in Gonaives, a city of 200,000 residents about 100 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince. Two weeks after they drove police away in the opening salvo of the armed uprising, the insurgents named a gang leader as their president and an exiled police chief charged with a past coup attempt as head of their armed forces.
“Alone we are weak, together we are strong, together we are the resistance,” shouted Buteur Metayer, head of a group once known as the Cannibal Army, chanting along with more than 20,000 supporters in Gonaives, Reuters reported. The rebels named their country “Artibonite,” after the rice-growing region surrounding the city.
The rapidly unfolding developments hinted that the Haitian crisis may soon turn critical. The rebels vowed to attack Port-au-Prince within a week and depose Aristide, who made his own emotional speech tinged with defiance in the capital.
“I am ready to give my life if that is what it takes to defend my country,” Aristide said at a ceremony honoring police officers killed in the uprising, which has left 60 people dead.
In Washington, Powell said the United States and others ? including France, Canada, the United Nations and regional bodies ? will offer a plan to Aristide and his political opponents aimed at a peaceful settlement.
“I think if they will both accept this plan and start executing on it, we might find a way through this crisis politically,” Powell told ABC Radio in Washington. Powell declined to give specifics.
He told ABC the United States would not object if Aristide resigns.
The United States has no plans to send peacekeepers, Powell said earlier this week. France is considering the possibility but has made no commitments.
But with Haiti’s crisis growing, time appeared to be running out for diplomatic initiatives.
Powell’s statement glossed over the fact that Haiti’s political opposition claims no connection to the armed rebels who have taken control of two major cities in the country’s north and are said to be gathering forces for a threatened offensive on the capital.
In addition to Buteur, the insurgents are led by Guy Philippe, the police chief exiled after allegedly plotting a coup in 2002, and Louis Jodel Chamblain, the feared head of a bloody paramilitary group that terrorized the country during Haiti’s last dictatorship, from 1991 to 1994.
The rebels face only a Haitian police force of less than 4,000. Aristide disbanded the military after his return to power in 1994. An unknown number of police officers have died in the rebellion.
Others have abandoned their stations or locked themselves inside, saying they are too frightened to fight.
Residents of Cap-Haitien, the last major northern city still in government hands, fear a rebel attack, and gangs of Aristide supporters there vowed to fight the insurgents.