Originally: Uneasy Peace Reigns in Haiti Countryside

Uneasy peace reigns in Haiti countryside

As the U.S.-led military force in Haiti prepares to be
replaced by U.N. peacekeepers, Haiti’s Central Plateau
remains tense and confused.

Special to The Herald


MIREBALAIS, HAITI – Residents stroll around a leafy
public square in this town in Haiti’s Central Plateau,
and vendors hawk shaved ice slathered with fruit

It is a nearly idyllic setting until armed rebels in
camouflage uniforms zip around the town on
motorcycles, patrolling in an uneasy cooperation with
Haiti’s National Police.

As the U.S.-led multinational military force in Haiti
prepares to be replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force
this month, the countryside remains tense and
confused. Rebels control some towns, police some towns
and the two sides share control of others.

Four months after former soldiers from Haiti’s
disbanded army spearheaded a rebellion that toppled
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the government of
interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue remains little
more than a rumored presence in some places outside

”Naturally, there is a level of tension [between the
police and the rebels], but it’s like the weather, it
goes up and down and you have to deal with it,” said
Raymong Metellus, police chief in Mirebalais.

Nearby, a rebel lounged on a desk, delicately
balancing an M-14 automatic rifle between his fingers.

”In life, communication and dialogue are very
important components, so we try to apply them here,”
Metellus said.


Though 11 police officers have returned to work in the
town since the February revolt, they have only one
vehicle and ”need about everything,” Metellus said.

In many ways, the Mirebalais police station was lucky.

Although it was thoroughly looted in the aftermath of
Aristide’s departure, the station itself was left
relatively unscathed. Many other police stations were
torched by rebels, and several policemen were killed.

In Hinche, the provincial capital 23 miles to the
north, the local police headquarters is a blackened
shell, the blue Caribbean sky visible through its
incinerated roof, its holding cells filled with sooty
ash. The hulks of torched cars litter the yard, where
braying goats paw in search of food.

The police there are now based within the safety of a
compound that holds a contingent of Chilean troops
from the multinational force.

But rebels, most of them veterans of the Haitian army
Aristide disbanded in 1995, maintain a base in an
empty schoolhouse several miles north of town.

”The security situation in Hinche is beginning to get
a little better with the presence of the Chilean
military as they work alongside the police. We are
patrolling together,” said police Inspector Clervaux
Saint Fleur, 39. “But right now, the police really
don’t have the means to work on their own.”

Like the police in Mirebalais, Saint Fleur complains
of a lack of vehicles, weapons and office space and
notes that his force of 40 police officers would
normally stand at 100.

”If the Chileans just leave and are not replaced, it
would be better that they would not have come at
all,” he said.

At the rebel headquarters in the nearby village of
Papaye, discontent is also brewing.


The Central Plateau has traditionally been a
stronghold for Haiti’s military, partly because of a
large army base built there in the 1960s by dictator
Francois Duvalier to protect the Peligre Dam from
possible attacks.

”Military base Papaye. Good afternoon,” former Sgt.
Francois Marcius said as he answered the phone at the
rebel base, where about a dozen former Haitian
soldiers complained about what they consider their
mistreatment at the hands of the international forces.

”When we saw what Aristide was doing to the country,
we ex-military decided to take up our weapons again,”
said Jean Baptiste Joseph, a former sergeant who gives
his title as spokesman for the “Armed Forces of

”When the [international forces] came here, we were
ready to collaborate with them. On the contrary, they
started to arrest us,” he said. “We are forbidden to
wear our uniforms. We are forbidden to wear our

Haiti’s former soldiers, Joseph said, are bitter that
the role they played in toppling Aristide seems little
appreciated by the international forces or interim

The men say they are entitled to pensions denied to
them after the army was disbanded, as well as funds
paid into military credit unions that were kept by the

”We were demobilized by Aristide in a way that was
completely illegal [and] the same way we have a
provisional government, we could have a provisional
high command of the army” until new elections
expected next year, Joseph said.

”We want to keep our weapons,” he added, “because
the population knows that we are the ones who really
keep order and security.”