France wants Aristide out
French officials privately tell Haiti‘s president that they no longer
support him — and they now back a coalition government without him.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — Looting and thuggery flared, roadblocks spread and a sense
of dread settled over Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s capital
Wednesday as rebels threatened to attack and France pressed Aristide to
In a critical setback for Haiti‘s leader, French officials privately told
Aristide that they no longer support him — and they now back a coalition
government without him, a senior official at the French Foreign Ministry
told The Herald.
”He does not have our support,” said the official, who requested
anonymity. “We will now move to support a government of national unity.”
While not officially using the term ”resign,” the French official said
Aristide “has been advised to step down.”
Meanwhile, in Washington, Paris, the Caribbean and the United Nations, calls
mounted for the deployment of international peacekeepers to Haiti.
President Bush said the United States and allies were discussing ”a
security presence” in Haiti, but he predicated that on the acceptance of a
settlement between Aristide and his political opponents.
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, however, called for ”the
immediate establishment of a civilian peacekeeping force” — civilian but
heavily armed.
The reason for that was growing terribly clear: The human cost of the
three-week rebellion reached 80 dead. A suspected Aristide supporter and
another man were killed Wednesday by rebels in the northern city of Cap
Another leading indicator of the state of affairs: Aristide’s wife, Mildred,
told CNN that she sent her two young daughters Wednesday to stay with her
mother in an undisclosed location in another country. Her mother lives in
Broward County.
”The threat is real,” she said.
In South Florida, the Coast Guard boarded a freighter with 21 Haitians after
an incident described by the vessel’s captain as an armed hijacking by
Haitian police officers and government officials. No injuries were reported
and Coast Guard officers took command of the ship Wednesday night seven
miles east of Miami.
Bush, speaking earlier in the day at the White House, reiterated that the
United States would turn back Haitian refugees. ”We encourage, strongly
encourage, the Haitian people to stay home,” he said.
The rebels’ next major objective appeared to be Port-au-Prince, with rebel
leader Guy Philippe warning residents on radio Wednesday to stay indoors
“because in a few days Haiti will be free of Aristide.”
Security deteriorated sharply in the capital. The overnight change was
Police watched idly as pro-Aristide militants, wearing black ski masks and
armed with guns and stones, swarmed motorists at roadblocks. Some stripped
people of handbags and cellphones, and two food and lumber warehouses were
The U.S. Embassy was closed by what American officials called ”gang
activity” and even U.S. Marines would not venture out on the streets to
escort 110 departing U.N. dependents to the airport.
”The U.S. Embassy recommended that we postpone,” said Christian do
Rosario, a U.N. official. “It’s too dangerous.”
Most of the dozens of barricades, constructed from burning tires, large
rocks and wrecked vehicles, were erected and guarded by militant Aristide
supporters called chimres, after a mythical dragon.
The gangs poured out of the slums early in the day, roaming the streets
aboard battered pickup trucks with pistols, shotguns and automatic weapons
in hand and fingers close to the trigger.
”We are helping the police,” said Bily Prezidan, one of four bosses who
control Cité Soleil, a shantytown of about 250,000 people largely loyal to
Aristide. “My mission is to clean Port-au-Prince so that the population is
not scared of the rebels.”
The usually bustling city came to a near halt as public transportation
disappeared. But no signs emerged of the rebels who, in just three weeks,
have thrust Aristide’s forces out of most of northern and central Haiti.
As disorder spread, the international community began rousing into action.
Paris seemed particularly determined to send in peacekeepers.
”This force would be charged with assuring the restoration of public
order,” de Villepin said in a statement critical of Aristide, hinting that
he should resign and mentioning early elections.
”As far as President Aristide is concerned, he bears grave responsibility
for the current situation,” de Villepin said. “It’s his decision, it’s his
At the United Nations, the Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting
today to consider a request by Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson,
chairman of the 15-member Caribbean Community, that a U.N.-led peacekeeping
force be sent to Haiti.
The Organization of American States also planned to discuss the crisis
Hundreds of Haitian refugees have landed in recent weeks in Jamaica and the
Turks and Caicos Islands. During the Haitian crisis of 1991-1994, 67,000
refugees headed to the United States.
U.S. officials have said they do not expect a new exodus, but Assistant
Secretary of State Roger Noriega told Florida lawmakers Wednesday that 300
to 500 Haitians had taken to the sea since Sunday.
”That is reason for alarm,” said Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican from Palm
Beach County.
Herald staff writers Marika Lynch in Port-au-Prince, Susannah A. Nesmith in
Cap Haitien, Frank Davies in Washington, Jacqueline Charles, Gail Epstein
Nieves and Luisa Yanez in Miami and Stuart Stogel at the United Nations
contributed to this report.