GONAIVES, Haiti — Haiti’s new interim prime minister flew on Saturday into the chaotic city where an armed revolt began six

weeks ago and hailed as “freedom fighters” a ragtag gang that helped oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Arriving in a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter, and escorted by a second Black Hawk and a twin-rotor Chinook, Gerard Latortue

landed on a soccer field in Gonaives to a raucous welcome by about 2,000 people.

The 69-year-old economist, named by a council of Haitians to take over after Aristide was driven into exile on Feb. 29 by the

revolt and U.S. pressure, was handed a wooden key, smelling heavily of varnish, as he set foot in his home town.

In the United States “they thought the people in Gonaives were thugs and bandits,” Latortue told reporters in the impoverished

Caribbean nation’s fourth-largest city. “But they are freedom fighters.”

The rebels in Gonaives, most of whom belonged to a street gang called “the Cannibal Army,” which once supported Aristide, did

not lay their arms at Latortue’s feet as they had promised.

But the prime minister said their leaders again pledged to disarm when the time was right.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company