By STEVENSON JACOBS, Associated Press Writer
Here, as in countless other Haitian towns, the battle for control is still being waged, despite the presence of a 3,500-strong, U.S.-led peacekeeping force.
“The person in charge is the person with the biggest gun,” said a young doctor at Les Cayes’ Immaculate Conception Hospital, which has treated dozens of people wounded in clashes between pro- and anti-Aristide forces. He refused to give his name for safety reasons.
The turmoil underscores the Herculean task ahead of Haiti’s U.S.-backed ? and broke ? interim government as it tries to restore order following an anti-Aristide uprising that left more than 300 dead.
Meanwhile, a band of about 20 civilians and some ex-soldiers from
Dubbed the Front, the gang patrols Les Cayes’ labyrinthine shantytowns and dispenses justice on the spot. It has executed at least five people accused of stealing, usually sacks of rice or sugar, said police Inspector Joseph Avril.
Police aren’t investigating because they have no resources, Avril said. Most spend their shifts sitting helplessly outside the police station.
“We’re working to get them to disarm, but it takes time,” Avril shrugged.
Jude Silias, a 32-year-old Front member, defended the executions as the only way to maintain order in Les Cayes. Businesses needing protection have donated guns to the group, he said.
“The police are too frightened to go out, so we have to do their jobs for them,” said Silias, wearing an old camouflage ball cap, a soccer jersey and a gold watch. “We’re fighting for our country.”
About 20 police returned to the streets over the last two weeks, but they’re poorly armed, have just one vehicle and rarely make arrests because the city jail was all but destroyed.
“The justice system in Les Cayes is sleeping right now,” Avril said in his office, stripped by looters of everything but a desk that was too big to carry out the door. “We’re still timid, but slowly we’re getting back out there.”
Many residents seem to support the Front, which says it’s loosely aligned with rebels who hold sway over northern
“This new government must really not care about us or the (
A nationwide peacekeepers’ disarmament campaign has barely made headway. The Front, for example, brandishes pistols, machetes and batons as it patrols Les Cayes in old camouflage clothing.
Insecurity has taken its toll. Businesses close early and many don’t venture out after dark. Some streets are barricaded with brittle conch shells.
“It’s like living in a prison for many people,” said Darline Domercant, an aid worker for Terra Les Hommes, a Lauzanne, Switzerland-based nongovernment group cares for malnourished children. “Nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.”
Downtown, Love Constance’s indoor market was destroyed by looters. He wants to press charges against those he believes were responsible.
“I want justice. But in