SAINT MARC, Haiti, Feb 11 (Reuters) – Supporters of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide shot dead at least three people in the town of Saint Marc on Wednesday as they joined balaclava-clad police in mopping up remnants of an armed revolt, witnesses said.
Gunfire rattled out and a thick plume of smoke rose over slum tenements in the coastal city 65 miles (105 km) from the capital, where rebels drove out the police force on Saturday. Authorities took back all
but two neighborhoods of the town on Monday.
Residents said three people were killed by supporters of Aristide’s ruling Lavalas Family party, who formed a band called “Baleouze” ? Creole for “sweep-up” — and began to comb through the remaining rebel areas in what appeared to be a wave of retribution.
A distraught girl called Mina said militia entered her home, dragged away three relatives and made them lie on the ground.
“They shot them in the head and then took the bodies away,” she said.
Bullet cartridges littered the dust outside homes that had been trashed in the hunt for weapons or foes. Children picked through the piles of clothes and broken appliances left behind.
The armed revolt began last week in Gonaives, the country’s fourth-largest city and the birthplace of its independence from France 200 years ago, when a gang that once supported Aristide attacked police,
capping months of anti-government protests.
The revolt spread and threatened the rule of Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who was once hailed as a champion of Haiti’s fledgling democracy but is now accused by his opponents of civil rights abuses and political thuggery.
Around 40 people have been killed in the violence, and the United Nations said up to 268,000 people could go hungry in a “major humanitarian crisis” if blocked roads were not opened up.
An official with an aid organization said the U.S. State Department briefed nongovernmental groups on plans to accommodate up to 50,000 Haitians at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, if the violence triggered an exodus of illegal immigrants.
Haitian police and government supporters began to fight back on Monday and took back at least two towns, Saint Marc and Grand Goave. On Tuesday, radio reports said Aristide backers attacked opponents in several areas, including the impoverished Caribbean country’s second city, Cap-Haitien in the north.
In Saint Marc, a man belonging to the militia who called himself Marckunt, said: “The police came to reinforce us against the terrorists.”
Like other government supporters there, he wore an orange T-shirt and had a pistol tucked in his waistband. He said 20 homes of government supporters had been burned while the rebels were in control.
In Gonaives, a city of 200,000 about 40 miles (65 km) north of Saint Marc, rebels manned barricades and cruised the garbage-strewn streets on Wednesday in seized police vehicles.
Buter Metayer, leader of the armed gang controlling the city, said his men were not deterred by the setbacks the rebellion had suffered and would defeat any attack.
Washington had sharp words on Tuesday for Aristide, who it supported in 1994 with 20,000 troops after he was ousted in a coup, saying the crisis could mean Haiti’s first democratically elected leader might have to step down.
But Aristide said on Wednesday, “I will leave the palace on February 7, 2006.”
“Haiti suffered from 32 coups d’états. It’s too many. We should not continue to move from one coup d’état to another one. We have to go from democratic elections to democratic elections,” he told reporters.