Originally: Signs Surface of Reprisals Against Aristide Loyalists
Tuesday, March 2, 2004; Page A01
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 1 — Thousands of Haitians danced in the streets Monday as rebels made a triumphant entrance into this burned and looted city a day after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide flew into exile.
But there were signs of political reprisals against Aristide supporters in the capital of a country with a history of political upheaval followed by bloody revenge. Haitian police operating alongside armed civilians shot and killed several people in slums that are home to Aristide loyalists, and two police officers also were killed, witnesses said.
Aristide arrived Monday in the Central African Republic, having left behind a statement that he resigned to avoid further bloodshed after a three-week insurgency in which more than 70 people were killed. However, he told members of the Congressional Black Caucus and others by telephone that he was kidnapped by U.S. forces and forced to leave Haiti at gunpoint — an allegation that Secretary of State Colin L. Powell rejected as “absolutely baseless” and “absurd.”
Haiti’s temporary president, Boniface Alexandre, huddled privately with other Haitian officials to determine the shape of an interim government. A plan endorsed by the United States and other countries calls for establishment of a citizens council to choose a new prime minister and eventually to call new elections, but no details have been set.
Guy Philippe, the leader of the rebel insurrection that helped force Aristide from office, rolled into the city in a pickup truck to thunderous cheers at the head of a column of about 150 rebels. By the time he entered the capital Monday, his forces had taken over nearly the entire country.
A small group of U.S. Marines watched Philippe’s victory lap as they patrolled the National Palace grounds in combat gear, part of a force of several hundred ordered to Haiti Sunday by President Bush. Marines and forces from Canada and France also took up positions at embassies and at the airport. They were the first contingent of what U.S. officials said would be a U.N.-mandated force of less than 5,000.
In Washington, a senior U.S. military officer said there were about 250 Marines in Haiti on Monday. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a news conference that the total number of U.S. forces could rise to “1,500 or 2,000,” depending on conditions and contributions from other countries.
The swift political change after Aristide’s downfall raised questions among Haitians about whether they faced change for the better or no more than a transfer of power from one group of armed thugs to another. Pro-Aristide gangs and members of his Lavalas party, which dominated Haitian politics for a decade, went into hiding, while new alliances emerged among their opponents.
In the Central African Republic, Aristide issued a brief statement on radio saying that those who ousted him had “cut down the tree of peace,” but said “it will grow again.” The sudden power shift left this impoverished country of 8 million with few functioning institutions, deep class divisions and fears of more violence.
“Our determination has proven to the world that we don’t want to live in a dictatorship,” said Harry Adeclat, a physician who joined about 2,000 other people in front of the National Palace to welcome Philippe’s arrival.
Some Haitians called for Aristide’s arrest and return to Haiti to stand trial on charges of official corruption and human rights violations. Groups of students outside the palace also chanted for the arrest of Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Aristide’s loyal lieutenant, who has remained in office pending the formation of an interim government.
“That’s the only thing we want out of this — to judge him and put him in jail,” Leopold Sabbat, 52, said of Aristide while standing in front of a looted downtown office building he owns. “We don’t need revenge. The only thing that bothers me is seeing him live somewhere with the fortune of this country.”
It was not clear under whose command groups of police and civilians were operating. But their patrols were based at the Petionville station, primary command post for the uniformed police, armed civilians and former military officers who appeared to make up the security forces in the city.
The forces entered slums where many pro-Aristide gangs have hidden amid warrens of tin-roof shacks and piles of trash.
In La Saline, a seaside slum loyal to Aristide, witnesses said uniformed police and armed civilians entered the port Monday morning driving sport-utility vehicles, and shot and killed several people.
Witnesses identified the armed civilians as mulattos, a reference to the light-skinned Haitians who control much of the economy. They said the police were trying to reassert control over private docks at the port, which local residents said were controlled until recently by gangs loyal to Aristide. Not far away, in the pro-Aristide neighborhood of Belair, two police officers were killed, police officials said.
“We are worried that we will be killed, and that the guys with the guns will not put them down,” said Jean-Renault, 39, a La Saline resident who declined to give his full name. “We will have to fight back.”
Police raided the home of Jonas Petit, appointed by Aristide in 2000 to head the Lavalas party, and searched for weapons. Neighbors in the wealthy Petionville district said Petit abandoned the house when Aristide resigned. Since then, looters had emptied the house of its contents. The officers found no weapons, but rounded up and arrested a half-dozen young men and women from neighboring houses. One burly officer, looking for a house where weapons might be hidden, slapped one man in the face and squeezed his neck, shouting, “Tell us where the house is.”
“He was the one giving the guns out to keep Aristide in power,” said one officer, referring to Petit. “If we had found him, he’d have been put under arrest.”
There were concerns here and in Washington about the intentions of Philippe and the other rebel leaders, many of them former soldiers or death squad members and some convicted of human rights abuses. In Washington, Powell said, “Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records.”
Aristide supporters said they feared Philippe would reconstitute the army and use it to influence politics — perhaps even overthrowing the new government if he did not like its actions. Aristide was overthrown in 1991 by the army; he disbanded it in 1994 following his return under U.S. military protection.
Philippe told reporters Monday that “when the government is formed, as promised we will lay down our weapons.”
In a statement, the pro-Aristide Haiti Support Group warned that the army’s “primary roles have been to defend the country’s tiny and reactionary economic elite and to repress movements for progressive political change. We fully expect a reborn Haitian army to play exactly the same role.”
At a police station near the National Palace, reporters asked Louis Jodel Chamblain, a former death squad leader who is now a top rebel leader, if he intended to take control of a reconstituted army. “That’s my secret,” he said with a smile.
Staff writers Peter Slevin and Bradley Graham in Washington contributed to this report.