Armed rebels take Haiti‘s fourth-largest city

By Michael Norton The Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ? An armed opposition group seized control of Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest city, yesterday, burning a police station, freeing prisoners and leaving at least four people reported dead and 20 wounded in clashes with police.

Members of the Gonaives Resistance Front began the assault shortly after noon in Gonaives, setting afire the mayor’s home and dousing the police station with fuel and lighting it while officers fled, Haitian radio reports said.

At least four opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were killed in gunbattles with police, Gonaives Resistance Front leader Wynter Etienne told Radio Vision 2000. Radio Metropole reported 20 people were wounded and more than 100 inmates were freed from the jail.

Gonaives is liberated,” Etienne said in Gonaives. “Aristide has to go. … We’ve liberated the police station and freed the population” from Aristide’s rule.

Etienne said the group aims to take control of other towns, while the government vowed to restore order.

The attacks “are terrorist acts undertaken by the armed wing of the opposition,” government spokesman Mario Dupuy said. “The police will have to take measures to re-establish order.”

Members of the armed group were once allied with Aristide but turned on him last year after their leader, Amiot Metayer, was found slain Sept. 22. Metayer had long supported Aristide, but many of his followers accuse the government of involvement in the killing.

Aristide has denied involvement.

Discontent has been growing in Haiti since Aristide’s party swept 2000 legislative elections that observers said were flawed. Other countries have distanced themselves from Aristide, poverty has deepened and protests have grown more numerous and chaotic.

At least 55 people have been killed in the Caribbean country since mid-September in clashes involving police, protesters and Aristide supporters.

Aristide has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006 and has defended his government, saying it has made progress despite many obstacles.



Dupuy, the spokesman, said the attackers in Gonaives didn’t have the support of most people in the city and linked the unrest to violence in the nearby Central Plateau, where in the past year at least 25 people have been killed in violence blamed on a band of anti-Aristide former soldiers.

Yesterday’s clashes in Gonaives came a day after Bahamas Foreign Minister Fred Mitchell and Colin Granderson, assistant secretary-general of the Caribbean Community, concluded talks with the opposition and met separately with Aristide.

Leaders of the opposition Democratic Platform said in a statement that during the two days of talks, they sought to “explain why Aristide and his government have to go.” The opposition leaders said they would “never engage in any kind of negotiation to maintain Aristide in power.”

In the capital of Port-au-Prince, meanwhile, hundreds rallied in support of Aristide outside the National Palace yesterday, chanting: “Aristide five years! If they don’t like it, 10 years!”

They gathered after the funeral of Aristide supporter Lionel Victor. Victor was shot with a tear-gas canister by police at close range during a clash with anti-government protesters at the U.S. Consulate on Jan 28.