Philippe told reporters Wednesday he had made the decision because international security forces were moving to disarm supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the city.
“Now that there are foreign troops promising to protect the Haitian people … and they have given the guarantee to protect the Haitian people … we will lay down our arms,” news agencies quoted Philippe as saying.
Earlier Wednesday his supporters burned paintings from the country’s former army headquarters as Philippe declared himself the country’s new police chief and threatened to arrest Prime Minister Yvon Neptune.
“We have the base of the police with us,” he said. “Almost 90 percent of the police are with us now, working together and trying to take the right decisions.”
Philippe also demanded the surrender of 20 men he said were leaders of armed gangs loyal to Haiti’s exiled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and he called for the country’s interim president to re-establish Haiti’s army.
Aristide disbanded the army, which overthrew him in 1991, after he was returned to office in 1994.
There was no immediate comment from the government of interim President Boniface Alexandre.
In Washington, U.S. officials said the number of U.S. troops in Haiti is expected to double to 1,000 by Sunday. (Full story)
Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday he was happy that Aristide was out of office — but he denied Aristide’s accusation that the United States forced him from power.
Meanwhile, a U.S. State Department spokesman said the United States would not recognize Philippe as head of Haiti’s national police.
And Haiti’s longtime dictator, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, told a Miami television station that he wants to return to his homeland but denied he is interested in seeking the country’s presidency.
After his supporters entered Port-au-Prince on Monday, Philippe set up shop in what was once the headquarters of Haiti’s armed forces.
Under Aristide, the building was Haiti’s ministry for women’s affairs.
Philippe’s supporters pulled paintings out of the building, located across from the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, and tossed them on a bonfire Tuesday afternoon.
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington did not recognize Philippe’s claim to authority and called on the rebels to lay down their arms.
“There is an orderly and constitutional political process under way in Haiti,” Boucher said.
“That process needs to be respected by all Haitians, but we’re glad to see the violence in decreasing. But the rebels have no role to play in this process and they need to lay down their arms and go home.”
Boucher said there was a distinction between the democratic opposition groups seeking a role in a new Haitian government and “groups that perpetrated violence so widely and broadly against the Haitian people in recent weeks.”
“We all know that these various individuals involved in this armed violence, many of them have a very unsavory history, to say the least,” Boucher said. “We do not believe that those people are welcome in the political process.”
But Philippe said he would not take orders from other countries.
“This time, we won’t take this pressure,” he said. “If they want to kill me, they can come and kill me. I’m ready to die for my country.”
Philippe called on the interim president to re-establish the Haitian army, though he acknowledged that restoring the military would take time, and he called on the international community to assist in its reconstitution.
Haiti’s armed forces overthrew Aristide, the country’s first democratically elected president, in 1991, and the United States restored him to office in 1994.
Early Sunday, faced with a rebellion that was spreading rapidly toward Port-au-Prince, Aristide resigned and left Haiti aboard a U.S. jet. But after landing in the Central African Republic, Aristide told CNN that he was forced into exile by the United States.
Aristide says he was forced out of Haiti in a “real coup d’etat” led by the United States, in what he called a “modern way to have a modern kidnapping.”
“I was told that to avoid bloodshed I’d better leave,” he said in an interview on CNN Monday.
The leader of the Central African Republic called his decision to grant asylum to Aristide, “a humanitarian act” but in a statement released Tuesday also expressed solidarity with Haitians who are trying to rebuild their government.
General Francois Bozize said his nation “welcomes a person in difficulty and in need to find a true hospitality.”
In an interview Tuesday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Cheney said that accusation was “simply not true.” But he added, “I’m happy he’s gone.”
“I think the Haitian people are better off for it,” he said. “I think they now have an opportunity to elect a new government, and that’s as it should be.”
U.S., French and Canadian troops have been dispatched to Haiti to restore order after Aristide’s ouster, and a U.S. Marine contingent moved to secure the capital’s seaport Tuesday.
The United States has warned the interim government that “violence will not be tolerated,” the State Department official said.
“So far it is working,” the official said, adding, “We have made clear to the rebels they need to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Meanwhile, Duvalier — whose family ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1986 — told Miami television station WFOR that he wants to return to his homeland as soon as possible.
Duvalier has lived in exile in France since his overthrow in 1986. He said he requested a diplomatic passport several weeks ago, while Aristide was still in power.
Asked if he plans to return to Haiti to run for president, Duvalier said, “That is not on my agenda.”
— CNN Correspondent Lucia Newman and producers Ingrid Arnesen and Elise Labott contributed to this report.