As a peacekeeping force consolidates its position in Haiti, members of the force and Haitian police officers arrest two men linked to the recent rebellion and gang activity in Gonaives.
PORT-AU-PRINCE — A U.S.-led multinational force tasked with bringing stability to Haiti stepped up its efforts by arresting two top rebel figures in separate raids, officials announced Friday.
French peacekeepers and Haitian police briefly detained Wilford Ferdinand, a rebel commander who had been accused of kidnapping a Haitian police officer, French military spokesman Maj. Xavier Pons said.
U.S. and French troops, meanwhile, helped Haitian police arrest Jean Robert, a rebel sympathizer and gang leader accused of terrorizing supporters of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in northeast Haiti.
The arrests this week marked the first time the U.S.-led multinational force acted against leaders in the three-week rebellion that led to Aristide’s ouster.
Robert was arrested April 3 in Ouanaminthe, a remote northern town on the Dominican border. He was placed on a U.S. military helicopter and flown to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, where he was awaiting charges, Pons said Friday.
Ferdinand, known as ”Ti-Will,” was held Wednesday at a hotel in the northern city of Gonaives, a rebel stronghold, Pons said. He didn’t resist arrest and was released four hours later at the request of police in Port-au-Prince.
Ferdinand claimed he took the unidentified officer into custody to prevent him from being lynched, Pons said. Troops and police seized 10 weapons during the raid.
The officer’s whereabouts weren’t immediately known. Ferdinand couldn’t immediately be reached in Gonaives for comment.
Max Isaac, spokesman for the Haitian National Police in Port-au-Prince, said he didn’t know why Ti-Will had been arrested but that he hadn’t been charged with any crime.
Isaac said Robert had been convicted of bringing stolen cars into Haiti from the Dominican Republic. He escaped when rebels seized a prison. The Dominican Republic may ask for Robert’s extradition as it investigates the February slayings of two of its soldiers along the border.
The arrests marked an increased involvement by some 3,600 troops under the U.S.-led multinational force, which previously had been limited to patrols and trying to disarm dozens of militias.
A Brazilian-led U.N. peacekeeping force, expected to include soldiers and civilian police, is to take over in June.
Rebels hold sway in many outlying areas despite the arrival of French peacekeepers in Gonaives and other northern towns three weeks ago. U.S. troops patrol the dangerous streets of the capital. Haiti’s police force is outgunned, underfunded and demoralized.
A year ago, the 27-year-old known Ferdinand was terrorizing Aristide opponents from his base in the Raboteau slum of Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth largest city.
During the February revolt, Ferdinand became the rebel-appointed police chief of Gonaives, where his militia led the uprising that spread to nearly a dozen cities and towns before Aristide fled Haiti on Feb. 29.