Originally: Rebellion against Haitian president centers on Cap Haitien


WASHINGTON (CNN) –The Pentagon will send a team of 50 U.S. troops to Haiti in response to a security request from the U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, Pentagon officials told CNN Monday.

The additional U.S. troops will be sent to the embassy in Port-au-Prince to secure the compound as rebels continue to make advances in that country.

The team of 50 U.S. Marines, trained in counterterrorism, would add to the Marine security detachment based at the embassy.

This past weekend, the U.S. State Department ordered the departure of all family members and nonemergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.

“We decided it is essential to take out nonessential personnel until the situation is more stable,” a senior State Department official said.

Over the weekend, the United States issued a travel warning telling American citizens it is unsafe to remain in Haiti and to leave while commercial flights are still available.

The embassy is open, and U.S. diplomats who are needed to conduct ongoing diplomacy are remaining in the country.

Meanwhile, Haiti’s government sent reinforcements to Cap Haitien after rebels seeking to oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide moved into the country’s second-largest city Sunday, storming police headquarters and freeing prisoners.

A government source told CNN the rebels had withdrawn from Cap Haitien by Sunday evening, but witnesses and journalists said gunfire could still be heard around the city.

Aristide told a crowd at a celebration in Port-au-Prince that additional police would be sent to Cap Haitien, on the northern coast.

The government source said the reinforcements were on their way Sunday afternoon.

With a population of about 500,000, Cap Haitien is the Aristide government’s last stronghold in northern Haiti.

Walter Eussenius, owner of the Mont Joli Hotel in Cap Haitien, said rebels moved into the city about 10 a.m. Sunday.

“The population is terrorized and the city is completely surrounded,” Eussenius told CNN in a telephone interview. Machine gun fire could be heard in the background as he spoke.

Eussenius said he said he drove three miles to the airport and was told that rebels had taken over the facility and tried hijack an airplane.

The account backed up a Dominican pilot, who said men armed with machetes boarded a plane in Cap Haitien and forced the pilot to fly to Port-au-Prince.

“We called one of our managers from over there who says there was shooting and the airport is closed,” said the pilot, Ricardo Faustela. “So right now we are not flying, and we don’t know what is happening.”

The Red Cross estimates more than 50 people have been killed since the rebellion erupted February 5 in the city of Gonaives. The rebels say Aristide’s government is corrupt and are calling for new elections.

Aristide’s supporters set up roadblocks and barricades Sunday on the road between Gonaives and Bon Repos, where a large group of heavily armed men attacked a police station Saturday night.

Police said a civilian was killed and an officer was grazed in the head with a bullet. Bon Repos residents said the incursion was the first in the town, which is on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

Sunday’s violence came the morning after an international delegation left Haiti, having failed to persuade Aristide’s political opposition to agree to a U.S.-backed power-sharing plan to resolve the tensions.

Aristide had agreed to the plan, but the opposition said it would accept nothing short of his resignation.

The international envoys told reporters Saturday they had given Haiti’s political opposition until 5 p.m. Monday to accept or reject the plan.

The proposal calls for the appointment of a new prime minister acceptable to both sides, a bipartisan Cabinet, new elections to be overseen by international observers and the disarming of militias.

Aristide, a former priest, has faced criticism since an election in 2000 that observers called fraudulent.

Opposition parties accuse his supporters of using violence to intimidate them. He has said repeatedly that he will not willingly step aside until his term of office expires in 2006.

The situation has prompted U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to decide to appoint a special adviser to Haiti.

Nearly 40,000 Haitians fled the country after a 1991 coup that ousted Aristide, who was restored to power in 1994 after U.S. military intervention.

CNN’s Lucia Newman, Ingrid Arnesen and Mike Mount contributed to this report.