By PAISLEY DODDS and IAN JAMES, Associated Press Writers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Rebel leader Guy Philippe on Tuesday declared himself the new chief of Haiti’s military, which had been disbanded by ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Flanked by other rebel leaders and senior officers of Haiti’s police force, Philippe told a news conference: “I am the chief.” Asked what he meant, he said, “the military chief.”
“I am not interested in politics,” he said. “The president is the legal president, so we follow his orders.”
Philippe also said the rebel forces that participated in the uprising that sent Aristide into African exile would disarm.
Haiti’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was installed as interim leader Sunday, just hours after Aristide fled under pressure from the United States and France. Alexandre has kept a low profile since.
Exiled Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, meanwhile, said he wanted to return to his homeland.
“This is my country,” Duvalier told Miami’s WFOR-CBS4 television in an interview in Paris. “I’m ready to put myself at the disposal of the Haitian people.”
But Duvalier said he doesn’t plan to run for president.
“That is not on my agenda,” he said through a translator.
The deposed dictator said he requested a diplomatic passport several weeks ago and is in constant contact with people in Haiti.
“I think I’m getting close and that I will soon have the opportunity to go back to my country,” he said.
Duvalier had been named president for life at age 18 after the death in 1971 of his father, Francois, known as “Papa Doc.” Tens of thousands were killed during the 29-year Duvalier dynasty and hundreds of millions of dollars stolen.
Accused of human rights violations and stealing at least $120 million from the national treasury, Duvalier fled to France in 1986.
Philippe, a former provincial police chief during Aristide’s tenure, has said he wants to reconstitute the army that ousted Aristide in 1991. Aristide disbanded the military in 1995, a year after he was returned to power by 20,000 U.S. troops.
Human Rights Watch has said Philippe has a “dubious human rights record,” pointing to executions of gang members committed by a deputy while he was police chief of Port-au-Prince’s Delmas section.
Aristide, currently in the Central African Republic, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Monday that he was “forced to leave” Haiti by U.S. military forces. He added that they would “start shooting and be killing” if he refused, but it was unclear if he was referring to rebels or U.S. agents.
American officials dismissed Aristide’s claim. Secretary of State Colin Powell (news – web sites) called the allegations “absolutely baseless, absurd.” U.S. officials acknowledged privately, however, that Aristide was told that if he remained in Haiti, U.S. forces would not protect him from the rebels who wanted to arrest him and put him on trial for corruption and murder.
In the Central African Republic, Aristide is being guarded by French soldiers, France’s defense minister said Tuesday.
“It is simply so his transitional stay in the Central African Republic unwinds in normal conditions,” Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said.
France does not intend to control his “comings and goings,” Alliot-Marie said.
Aristide and the president of the Central African Republic, Francois Bozize, were expected to discuss Aristide’s final asylum plans in an unknown third country later Tuesday, Communications Minister Parfait Mbaye said.
U.S. plans for a quiet, orderly transition in Haiti appeared threatened, despite the arrival of hundreds of American, French and Canadian soldiers as an interim peacekeeping force. U.S. Marines and French troops have secured key sites around the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At least 100 people have died in the uprising that erupted Feb. 5.
Meanwhile, the prospect of peacekeepers — the other arm of U.S. strategy — appeared reduced to a minimal expression, with Marine Col. Dave Berger saying that his 200 forces from the 8th Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., would not disarm rebels or the pro-Aristide militants and they would not police the city.
The civilian opposition also raised concerns about an orderly transition when some of its leaders showed a near adoration for the rebels and contempt for an international transition plan.
The only encouraging sign was the relief among people in the capital.
Callers flooded talk radio programs with appeals for rebel help in neighborhoods still dominated by pro-Aristide gangs that terrorized the city.
Scattered looting continued, police cleared the city of barricades, but gunfire continued crackling in some neighborhoods and bound, executed bodies were found in the streets.
In the capital, there were reports of reprisal killings of Aristide supporters accused of terrorizing people during his rule. An Associated Press reporter saw four bodies at Carrefour on the outskirts of the capital — three of them with hands tied and bullet wounds in the head.
Powell said he did not want some rebel leaders to take any role in a new government.
“Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records, and this is something we will have to work through,” Powell said.
Amnesty International called Monday for international peacekeepers to arrest rebel leaders Louis-Jodel Chamblain, a former death squad leader convicted of murders while in exile, and Jean Pierre Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, who escaped from jail after being sentenced to two life sentences for the 1994 massacre of 15 Aristide supporters.
Chamblain said the rebels planned patrols Tuesday, possibly to the Cite Soleil seaside slum that is a stronghold of die-hard Aristide followers.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 U.S. troops would go to Haiti for a “relatively short period.” They would participate in an interim force, which could include as many as 5,000 troops from several countries, that would stay until replaced by U.N. peacekeepers.
Chile said it was sending 120 special forces to Haiti on Wednesday, the first part of a contingent of 300 Chileans to join the international security force.
There were no clashes between the rebels and the American and French troops, who were establishing security at diplomatic missions and other sites.
Aristide’s home in suburban Tabarre, meanwhile, was looted and trashed, but he continued to cast a long shadow over Haiti.
Aristide abruptly left Haiti early Sunday and was flown aboard a contracted U.S.-government plane to the impoverished Central African Republic.
With rebels closing in on the capital, Aristide may have felt his life was in danger. After he left, thousands converged on the plaza outside the National Palace, shouting “Liberty!” and “Aristide is gone!” as a 70-man rebel convoy arrived from the western town of Gonaives, where the rebellion erupted.
Civilian opposition leaders met with rebels for hours at a Port-au-Prince hotel Monday. The opposition, angered by poverty, corruption and crime, pushed for Aristide to leave for the good of Haiti’s 8 million people — but had distanced themselves from the rebels.
Associated Press reporters Michael Norton in Kingston, Jamaica; Mark Stevenson in Port-au-Prince; and Joseph Benamsse in Bangui, Central African Republic, contributed to this report.