Haiti’s interim government will allow many former soldiers who drove out its elected president to become police, but a rebel leader said on Tuesday his men would revive the disbanded army instead.
“We are the Haitian army and we exist,” said ex-army Colonel Remissainthe Ravix, who fought alongside rebel chiefs Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain during an uprising in February that sent President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile.
Ravix, who claims to command 1,681 former soldiers, told Reuters that none of his men would join the police.
“We are a constitutional force just like them,” he said, surrounded by heavily armed men in camouflage uniforms.
A man hoping to join the Haitian National Police was killed on Tuesday and many were hurt in a stampede as thousands of Haitians sought jobs with the force, a police academy official said.
Gerry Prophete, 23, was crushed to death, said Jean Yonel Trecil, inspector general of the police academy in Port-au-Prince.
Eight people were hospitalized with injuries, many more were hurt and recruiting was temporarily suspended, he said.
The stampede occurred a day after Haitian authorities began recruiting police to fill a security gap that has worsened since Aristide’s departure.
“The crime rate has increased. It is a fact. But the problem is that the police don’t have enough numbers,” Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said.
Haiti had about 3,500 policemen before the uprising. But many fled the country or abandoned their posts in fear of their lives during the revolt. Others have been fired by the interim authorities.
Gousse said some 20,000 officers would be needed to police Haiti, which now has just 2,000 police for 8 million people.
Haiti’s military overthrew Aristide, the Caribbean nation’s first democratically elected president, shortly after he took office in 1991. Aristide disbanded the army after he was returned to power by a U.S.-led military invasion in 1994.
He began serving a second five-year term in 2001 but was driven into exile on February 29 amid the uprising led by rebels, many of them former soldiers. More than 200 people were killed during the uprising.
Haiti is tentatively set to hold elections next year. The interim government has said it will leave it up to the next government to decide the fate of the army.
The United States, which pressured Aristide to step down in February, has urged Haiti not to revive its army, which has a long history of launching coups.
Ravix said the United States has no right to interfere “with our efforts to take back possession of our barracks.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report to the Security Council that stabilizing Haiti will require a U.N. peacekeeping mission of more than 8,000 troops and civilian police over the next two years.
Ravix said Aristide’s decision to dismantle the army was unconstitutional and called on interim authorities to pay the former soldiers 10 years’ back salary.
“They have to pay us because the army never ceased to exist,” said Ravix.
The interim government said it would let rebel ex-soldiers into the police force, but would screen them to determine if they had been involved in serious human rights abuses.
Thousands of people lined up in front of the police academy’s gate all day on Monday and on Tuesday trying to register to fill 800 open slots.
Some said they want to become police officers to serve their country. Others said they had no alternative.