Originally: Looting Erupts as Foreigners Flee Haiti; Opposition Seeks World Help in Ousting Aristide
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti Feb. 25 ? Foreigners tried to flee Haiti on Wednesday, some guarded by U.S. Marines, as looting erupted in the capital and pressure mounted for international intervention in the 3-week-old uprising against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Panic overtook the city, although there was no sign of the rebels who have overrun half of Haiti and are threatening Port-au-Prince.
A U.N. Security Council meeting on Haiti was scheduled for Thursday. President Bush said the United States is encouraging the international community to provide a strong “security presence” in Haiti as Washington and its allies work for a political solution.
Opposition leaders asked the international community to help ensure a “timely and orderly” departure of Aristide.
And French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin urged the “immediate” dispatch of an international civilian force to restore order in its former colony.
“This force would be charged with assuring the restoration of public order and support actions in the field of the international community,” de Villepin said in a statement that stopped short of calling for Aristide’s resignation.
“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 responsibility. Every one sees that this is about opening a new page in the history of Haiti.”
France also said it wants human rights observers sent to Haiti and a “long term” engagement of international aid aimed at reconstructing its economy.
Jamaica’s U.N. Ambassador Stafford O. Neil said at the United Nations it might be possible to dispatch a small “interposition force” to keep the rebels and Aristide supporters apart.
One U.N. diplomat noted the rebels can only come to Port-au-Prince by two roads, so placing such a force would be relatively easy and would buy time for a political solution.
De Villepin said he was to meet Friday in Paris with representatives of the government and the opposition. Opposition leader Mischa Gaillard, however, said it was unclear when they would be able to leave Haiti because of the political chaos.
As of Wednesday morning, rebel leader Guy Philippe remained in Cap-Haitien, Haiti’s second-largest city.
Roads all over Port-au-Prince were blocked by dozens of flaming barricades, shops were shuttered and hotels were barred against looters.
The roadblocks were intended to stop the rebels who began the uprising Feb. 5, but militants at the barricades also used guns and stones to stop cars and loot them of handbags, luggage and cell phones. Police did not intervene.
Overnight, a car dealership on the airport road was looted and torched. A suburban bar was set ablaze, and nearby shops were looted, along with a private food warehouse in the Cite Soleil seaside slum.
American Airlines delayed three of its five daily flights to the United States because crew and passengers were trying to get through the roadblocks. Air Jamaica canceled its flights to Haiti.
Guy Lockrey, an auto worker from Flint, Mich., abandoned his car at a barricade and headed to the airport on foot with his suitcase when police picked him up.
“We didn’t feel any tension until we got close to the capital,” said Lockrey, who had been helping to build a church in west-central Haiti.
U.S. Marines, who arrived Monday, were to escort a convoy of U.N. personnel. The United Nations ordered all nonessential staff and family to leave.
“The situation is bad and it’s becoming worse,” said Francoise Gruloos-Ackermans, UNICEF coordinator for Haiti.
Britain and Australia have urged their citizens to leave, following similar warnings from the United States, France and Mexico. There are about 30,000 foreigners in Haiti, 20,000 of them Americans.
Canada said a team of soldiers flew into Port-au-Prince on Tuesday to aid a possible evacuation of some 1,000 Canadians.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints evacuated the last of its 120 missionaries. “We’re hoping to come back when there’s peace,” said Joel Tougas, a church elder from Deep Cove, Canada.
On Tuesday, Aristide warned that if rebels tried to take the capital, thousands could die. At least 70 people have been killed in the uprising, about 40 of them police officers.
The opposition coalition rejected an international peace plan that diplomats had billed as a last chance for peace. Aristide on Saturday accepted the plan, under which he would remain as president but with diminished powers, sharing the government with his political rivals.
“It is absolutely necessary for the international community to accompany the country in its quest for a mechanism that will allow for a timely and orderly departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide,” said a statement from the opposition Democratic Platform coalition.
It appeared the international community was reconsidering its insistence that Aristide remain president. Two Western diplomats said they and colleagues were preparing a request to ask Aristide to resign.
An opposition politician said foreign diplomats told the Democratic Platform not to say that the international community had rejected their counterproposal.
The counterproposal, sent Tuesday to Secretary of State Colin Powell, would install a Supreme Court justice as interim president and ensure Aristide’s “orderly departure.”
In Washington, the top U.S. envoy for the hemisphere, Roger Noriega, told legislators that if a political solution cannot be reached, “they’ll consider many things, they’ll consider a whole gamut of options, but they do not want to go in and simply prop up Aristide,” according to Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.
Bush indicated an international force may be needed to provide security in Haiti, possibly as a way to enforce a diplomatic and political solution.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said various nations are prepared to “police” a political solution to the violence. “We’re working with the international community on these efforts and the international community has made it clear that there would be a police force that could assist or that would help with a political solution, and our commitment is to assist in those efforts,” he said.
Bush reiterated that the U.S. Coast Guard will turn back any Haitian refugees trying to reach American shores.
Aristide has lost much popular support amid accusations he condoned corruption, failed to help the poor and brutally suppressed the opposition.
Haiti has no military it was disbanded after U.S. troops returned Aristide, Haiti’s first freely elected leader, to power in 1994. The military had deposed him in 1991 and instituted a reign of terror.