Originally: Ex-police chief and militia leader join rebellion; Rumours of imminent attack sweep port city

PORT-AU-PRINCE?Haiti’s prime minister said yesterday the country was in the throes of a coup and needed international help to contend with a bloody uprising that has claimed 57 lives.

Aid agencies called for urgent international action, warning Haiti is on “the verge of a generalized civil war.” And the U.N. refugee agency met with officials in Washington to discuss how to confront a feared exodus of Haitians.

Yesterday, airlines in Port-au-Prince cancelled flights to the northern port of Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second largest city, after witnesses in the barricaded city saw a boat approach and rumours swept the town that rebels were about to attack.

“We are witnessing the coup d’état machine in motion,” Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said, urging the international community “to show it really wants peace and stability.”

Neptune made his plea after several old foes of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide joined the rebellion.

Louis Jodel Chamblain, who paraded through the central city of Hinche yesterday, a day after his gunmen kicked out police, was the co-founder of a militia that killed thousands of Haitians during the regime that ran Haiti from 1991 to 1994.

Chamblain was an army officer accused of heading death squads during the last years of Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier’s dictatorship in the late 1980s. He was suspected of taking part in a 1987 massacre, in which at least 34 voters were shot dead and civilian-run elections were aborted.

Guy Philippe, who also turned up in rebel-held Gonaives this weekend, is a former soldier assigned to the police force that replaced the Haitian army, and was police chief in the northern city of Cap-Haitien. Suspecting he was plotting a coup with other police officials, the Haitian government fired him in 2000.

Philippe later fled to the Dominican Republic.

The government has also said that Jean (Tatoune) Pierre Baptiste is among the leaders of the revolt in Hinche.

Under the military junta of the early 1990s, Tatoune joined the FRAPH, a paramilitary which launched violent protests and strikes, brutally attacking Aristide supporters and torching whole neighbourhoods.

Haiti’s 5,000-member police force appears unable to stem the revolt, but Aristide and Neptune stopped short of asking for military intervention.

Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “There is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence.”

Powell spoke by telephone with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who called an emergency meeting in Paris to weigh the risks of sending peacekeepers to Haiti, an impoverished former colony that is home to 2,000 French citizens.

De Villepin said France had 4,000 troops in its Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe trained in humanitarian work who could work with a U.N. mission.

Canada yesterday committed $1.1 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Haiti, the Star’s Graham Fraser reports.

International Co-operation Minister Aileen Carroll told reporters $800,000 will go immediately to the World Food Program, and the Red Cross will get $350,000 to help establish a team of medical personnel.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday the world body plans to “become much more actively engaged” in Haiti’s crisis. Officials from several U.N. agencies went to the country Feb. 8 to assess the situation and are expected to report back later this week.

Aristide, who was wildly popular when he became Haiti’s first freely elected leader in 1990, has lost support since his party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000.

He is accused of using police and armed militants to stifle dissent and allowing corruption to fund lavish lifestyles for his cronies as the majority of the 8 million people suffer deeper misery.

In Ottawa, the Foreign Affairs Department issued an advisory warning that travel to Haiti should be avoided and Canadians already there should “assess their need to be in the country.”

The Star’s wire services