By IAN JAMES and PETER PRENGAMAN, Associated Press Writers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – U.S. Marines raided a house in search of weapons Thursday, trying to shore up a fragile peace in Haiti as the ousted president planned a return to the Caribbean from exile in Africa.
With morgues full and government offices closed, bodies were piling up in the capital, littering the streets and serving as bitter reminders of an armed rebellion that has divided the country.
Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who began choosing a Cabinet on Thursday, has said ridding the population of weapons is a top priority. Marines raided a home near the presidential palace before dawn Thursday, hours after Latortue arrived in Haiti from Florida.
U.S. Army Gen. James Hill said troops would work to collect weapons, from “rusted M-1s to top-of-the-line Uzis.”
“The message out of this is, we are looking, and we will continue to do so,” Col. Charles Gurganus said.
Ousted Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his wife will travel to Jamaica early next week, returning to within 130 miles of Haiti less than three weeks after fleeing into exile, Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said Thursday.
Aristide, ousted Feb. 29 at the height of a popular rebellion, currently is staying in the Central African Republic while seeking long-term asylum somewhere. Patterson said Aristide was not seeking political asylum in Jamaica, where he will stay for up to 10 weeks.
He said Aristide wants to be reunited with his two young daughters, who currently are in New York.
On Thursday, shots were fired at a rally of hundreds of people carrying parasols with Aristide’s image through downtown Belair.
“Aristide has to come back! We don’t want Bush as president!” the protesters yelled.
They scattered when the shots were fired, some pulling out pistols and looking for the gunman. No injuries were reported.
Bodies were piling up in the capital’s unrefrigerated morgue and on streets, serving as bitter reminders of the monthlong rebellion.
Health officials normally are charged with collecting bodies in Port-au-Prince, but with no government, many corpses have been left to rot on sidewalks.
The toll from a monthlong rebellion and reprisal killings has risen to more than 300, with the Pan-American Health Organization reporting an estimated 200 corpses at the state morgue as being victims of the violence.
At La Saline seaside slum, the body of a man shot on Tuesday remained in the street Thursday. Adults averted their eyes, but children on bicycles locked their gaze on the corpse.
“If the body stays another day, the pigs will start to eat it,” said barber Remy Ileron, 40. “This month, that’s been happening a lot.”
Haiti’s new prime minister said his priorities are disarmament and security, reconciliation, and organizing new elections ? though many officials acknowledge holding a vote could take more than a year.
Latortue went straight to work Thursday, meeting with interim President Boniface Alexandre to discuss a Cabinet he wants to include retired army Chief of Staff Herard Abraham, in charge of security, and businessman and former Aristide Prime Minister Smarck Michel as planning minister.
Abraham supports recreating Haiti’s once-disgraced army, a key demand of rebels who helped force Aristide from office. Latortue said Aristide’s disbanding of the army in 1995 may have been unconstitutional.
Aristide militants refuse to recognize the new government, supporting Aristide’s claims he was forced from power by the United States and France. His lawyer in Paris said Wednesday he was considering bringing charges against ambassadors of both countries.
U.S. Ambassador James Foley, speaking in a BBC interview broadcast Thursday, said Aristide “never once said that he didn’t want to go.”
“He never said: ‘I think you are wrong. I think your assessment is wrong. I’m going to stay. I’m going to ride it out,'” Foley said. “It was all about his departure.”
The 53-nation African Union and the 15-member Caribbean Community ? which comprise nearly a third of U.N. member states ? have condemned the circumstances of Aristide’s flight and called for the United Nations (news – web sites) to investigate.
A once-popular slum priest, Aristide was elected on promises to champion the poor, but lost support as misery deepened and Haitians accused his government of corruption and attacks against his political opponents.
Latortue, 69, hasn’t addressed Aristide’s claims. Chosen by a seven-member Council of Sages, he has stressed his neutrality.
“I came here with my mind open to work with everyone in Haiti,” he said. “I’m not a member of any political party.”
Although Latortue has accepted the job of leading Haiti out of its latest crisis, he hasn’t been officially sworn in. Outgoing Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, an Aristide appointee, has said he will ensure an orderly transition, but it wasn’t clear when that would take place.
Associated Press Writer Paisley Dodds contributed to this report.