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. But the United States and France expressed reluctance to send troops to put down the rebellion.

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

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

In the western port of St. Marc, an American missionary said his life has been threatened by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

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

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

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday “there is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence.”

Powell said the international community wants to see “a political solution” and only then would willing nations offer a police presence to implement such an agreement.

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

“Can we deploy a peacekeeping force?” de Villepin asked on France-Inter radio, noting it “is very difficult” amid violence.

He said France had 4,000 troops in its Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe trained in humanitarian work.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said yesterday the world body plans to “become much more actively engaged” in Haiti’s crisis. Officials from several UN agencies went to the country Feb. 8 to assess the humanitarian situation and are expected to return to report at the end of the week.

US Ambassador James Foley said yesterday that Washington wants “radical change” in Haiti.

“We are calling for a truce. It doesn’t mean that we want to maintain the status quo,” Foley said. “Haiti cannot continue living without a state of law, with politicized and demoralized police, armed gangs.”

The United States has staged three military interventions in Haiti, the last in 1994, when it sent 20,000 troops to end a military dictatorship that had ousted Aristide and halt an influx of Haitians to Florida.

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.

Growing protests have challenged his authority, and scores of people were killed in clashes among police, Aristide militants, and antigovernment demonstrators before the rebellion.

The revolt was launched Feb. 5 by a ragtag cadre of former Aristide supporters who enlisted a former army death squad leader, an escaped convict, and a police chief accused of fomenting a coup two years ago.

They now control roads leading to the Artibonite district, Haiti’s breadbasket and home to 1 million people, and have cut food and fuel supplies to the north.

Witnesses said 50 rebels led by former death squad leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain descended on Hinche on Monday, freeing prisoners, torching the police station, and killing the police chief and two officers.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.