By MARK STEVENSON, Associated Press Writers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Rebels began patrolling the capital as their leader Guy Philippe declared himself military chief and threatened to arrest the prime minister, raising fears of reprisals against supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
U.S. Marines, who arrived along with French forces in recent days to secure diplomatic missions and other sites, barely ventured out of the city’s airport. Marine Col. Dave Berger said his forces will increase their presence throughout the Caribbean nation following Philippe’s comments.
“The country is in my hands!” Philippe announced Tuesday on the radio, in between touring the city in the back of a pickup truck and greeting throngs of admirers.
Philippe, flanked by other rebel leaders and senior officers of Haiti’s demoralized police force, also told reporters, “I am the chief,” then clarified that he meant “the military chief.”
Two U.S. Chinook helicopters slowly circled Tuesday over Philippe’s base, the rebel-held northern port of Cap-Haitien, on an apparent reconnaissance mission, said a resident reached by telephone. Some Marines patrolled Port-au-Prince’s seaport, which was being looted, in a Humvee.
Berger and the commander of the French forces in Haiti ? which are the vanguard of an international peacekeeping force ? said they have no orders to disarm Haiti’s factions and instead were to secure key sites and protect their countries’ citizens and government property.
“We are not a police force,” Berger said.
Philippe, meanwhile, appeared on the second-floor balcony of the colonnaded former army headquarters and raised a fist as hundreds of onlookers wildly cheered.
Hours later, some 300 people gathered outside the gates of Prime Minister Yvon Neptune’s office, guarded by a handful of U.S. Marines, shouting “Arrest Neptune!” and “The head is gone, but the tail remains!”
Philippe said Neptune ? a top member of Aristide’s Lavalas party and his former presidential spokesman ? would face corruption charges, but the prime minister’s whereabouts were unknown. Radio reports said he had been evacuated by helicopter.
With Aristide in the Central African Republic, the rebels appear to be taking advantage of a power vacuum.
Speaking in Washington, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Roger Noriega said Philippe had no real power.
“He is not in control of anything but a ragtag band of people,” Noriega told lawmakers Tuesday.
The buildup of the U.N.-authorized international peacekeeping presence in Haiti will make Philippe’s role “less and less central in Haitian life. And I think he will probably want to make himself scarce,” Noriega said.
“We have sent that message to him. He obviously hasn’t received it,” Noriega said.
Philippe, who arrived in Port-au-Prince in a rebel convoy on Monday, apparently plans to transform his fighters into a reconstituted Haitian army. The army ousted Aristide in 1991 but then was disbanded by him in 1995, a year after he was returned to power by 20,000 American troops.
Philippe said he was ready to follow the orders of interim President Boniface Alexandre, the chief justice of the Supreme Court who was installed Sunday. Asked whether he would disarm if requested to, he said, “We will.”
Rebels patrolled some streets of the seaside capital. One pointed his assault rifle, finger on the trigger and the safety off, at pedestrians who raised their arms or lifted their shirts to show they were unarmed.
Execution-style killings continued. At least two more bodies showed up Tuesday on streets still littered with charred barricade. Six bodies arrived at the state morgue Tuesday, all with gunshot wounds.
More than 100 people died in the three-week rebellion and reprisal killings that, combined with pressure from the United States and France, led Aristide to flee into exile on Sunday.
“This is one of darker moments in Haiti’s history,” said Brian Concannon, who had successfully prosecuted another rebel leader, Louis-Jodel Chamblain, in absentia for a 1994 massacre. “I’m extremely afraid for all people who have fought for democracy because they all could be killed.”
Chamblain said rebel patrols may go to the Cite Soleil seaside slum that is a stronghold of die-hard Aristide followers.
Chile, meanwhile, said it was sending 120 special forces to Haiti on Wednesday, the first of about 300 Chileans to join the international force approved by the U.N. Security Council.
Aristide, meanwhile, was staying in the palace of President Francois Bozize of the Central African Republic and was expected to discuss with him final asylum plans in an as-yet-unknown third country, the African nation’s communications minister, Parfait Mbaye, said.
A diplomatic source in Washington, asking not to be identified, said Wednesday that Aristide wanted to go to either Morocco or South Africa as an exile destination but both said no. He flew to the Central African Republic as a temporary alternative.
South Africa has said in principle that it’s not opposed to taking in Aristide, but that it hasn’t received a formal request. Like the Central African Republic, it was thought to be troubled by the political and diplomatic problems that could follow Aristide.
U.S. officials strongly denied Aristide’s claim that the United States forced him out of office.
The White House on Tuesday accused Aristide’s government of condoning official corruption, including drug trafficking. Spokesman Scott McClellan declined to say what evidence supported that claim. Aristide has denied such charges.
Associated Press writers Paisley Dodds and Ian James in Port-au-Prince contributed to this report.