CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti – Haiti’s new leader is in an “unholy alliance” with rebels including convicted assassins, one human rights group charged Monday, while another warned that peacekeepers aren’t doing enough to control rebels.
Several human rights groups questioned interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue’s actions at a weekend rally where he celebrated the gangsters who began Haiti’s uprising as “freedom fighters.”
Meanwhile ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Lavalas Family party, in disarray since many officials fled or are in hiding, appeared to be regrouping and warned Monday that there can be no peace without the participation of Haiti’s largest political movement.
A statement from Sen. Yvon Feuille charged Lavalas members are being hounded across the country and even killed.
“Everywhere Lavalas is a victim. Besides those physical massacres, we see there is a political massacre being prepared behind Lavalas’ back,” he said.
“Without Lavalas, there is no solution. Without Lavalas, there won’t be the peace we need so much.”
He denounced what he said was a “white American and French colonists’ plan” to marginalize the movement that helped bring Haiti’s first democratic elections in 1990, which Aristide won in a landslide.
Aristide left Feb. 29, claiming he was forced from power by the United States as rebels threatened to attack Port-au-Prince.
Under a U.S.-sponsored plan, Latortue last week formed a transitional government that he said is neutral but includes no Lavalas member and is loaded with Cabinet members critical of Aristide.
Aristide is staying temporarily in Jamaica, but on Monday Nigeria announced it has agreed to a request by Caribbean leaders to grant him temporary asylum. A Nigerian government statement did not say whether Aristide had requested _ or even agreed to – asylum in Nigeria.
Latortue, the United States and others have criticized Jamaica for accepting Aristide, saying his presence near Haiti would raise tensions.
Human Rights Watch warned Monday that fighters in the rebel-held north were illegally detaining former Aristide officials and journalists who supported him.
It urged French troops to quickly fill a “security vacuum” in northern Haiti.
“The multinational forces need to extend their reach,” said Joanne Mariner, Human Rights Watch director, said on her return from the north. “Right now there really is no rule of law in much of northern Haiti.”
Her group said there are now fewer than 50 police for the northern region, which used to have a few hundred, and that rebels in Cap-Haitien had 16 prisoners in custody on Saturday.
The New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights, meanwhile, accused Latortue of “fanning the flames of lawlessness” when he shared a platform with rebel leaders at a rally in his hometown of Gonaives on Saturday.
Coalition director Jocelyn McCalla criticized Latortue for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with “thugs” including rebel commander Jean Pierre Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, who escaped from jail after being sentenced to two life sentences for involvement in the 1994 massacre of some 15 Aristide supporters.
“Tatoune should have been in jail instead,” McCalla said.
“We strongly condemn the unholy alliance which the interim government has struck with the Gonaives rebels,” he said, noting one rebel leader “threatened to overthrow the interim government should they decide that things were not to their liking.”
Amnesty International’s Americas director Eric Olson said “It sends a very bad signal for the prime minister … The future of Haiti depends on a strong justice system, and sweeping these things under the carpet weakens that future.”
Cabinet Minister Robert Ulysse rejected the criticism, saying Latortue was trying to “reckon with everything in the past” and discuss the “repressive nature” of Aristide’s government. “The government has solemnly pledged not to interfere with … justice,” Ulysse said.
Human rights groups say the government should arrest prominent rebels such as Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a convicted assassin who led army death squads.
Some 300 people died in the uprising that began in Gonaives on Feb. 5. As rebels moved swiftly from town to town, they freed hundreds of prisoners including numerous human rights violators.
The rebellion was begun by a street gang formerly allied with Aristide and grew to include former soldiers of Haiti’s army, which ousted Aristide in 1991. Aristide dissolved the army after he was restored by U.S. troops in 1994.
The current international peacekeeping force in Haiti includes some 3,300 troops from the United States, France, Chile and Canada in what the U.S. military announced Monday is “Operation Secure Tomorrow.”