By Simon Gardner

Jocelerme Privert
Privert is the first of Aristide’s ministers to be detained

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) – Haiti arrested the former interior minister of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Tuesday on charges of coordinating a massacre during a bloody revolt that toppled the government, the new justice minister said.

Former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert surrendered to police early Tuesday after an arrest warrant was issued, becoming the first minister of Aristide’s fallen government to be detained.

The arrest came the day after Secretary of State Colin Powell (newsweb sites) visited the poorest country in the Americas to pledge U.S. support for the interim government — which has been criticized by rights groups for failing to arrest rebels accused of rights abuses.

“He surrendered himself this morning,” Justice Minister Bernard Gousse told Reuters, declining to comment when asked if arrest warrants had been issued for other members of exiled Aristide’s cabinet.

“It would be counterproductive to go into that at this time,” he said.”

Privert is accused of helping coordinate a massacre of political opponents in the city of Saint-Marc, around 45 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince, as violence raged in the run up to Aristide’s fall, Gousse said.

Members of Aristide’s Lavalas Family party say they are the target of a witch-hunt by rebels who led the revolt — and still roam free — and the interim government of new Prime Minister Gerard Latortue.

Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune is in hiding after receiving death threats from rebels, many of whom the government plans to incorporate into the police force.

Gousse told Reuters in an interview last week it will be months before Haiti’s crippled police and judiciary, ravaged by the bloody rebellion in which more than 200 people were killed, are rebuilt and ready to bring accused rebels to justice.

With figures like notorious former paramilitary leader Louis Jodel Chamblain, a convicted murderer who helped lead the bloody rebellion against Aristide, still holding sway in the north, Gousse said he must tread a fine line.

The government has, however, gone after supporters of Aristide, arresting more than a dozen of his associates and issuing a blacklist banning dozens more from leaving the country pending investigations of suspected graft.

Aristide, a former slum priest, was once widely viewed as a champion of Haiti’s democracy but had been increasingly accused of corruption and political thuggery.