Aristide visits embattled Haiti slum
He promises help for victims of fires set by gang members
BY YVES COLON
Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Tuesday visited the seaside slum where gangs battling for control of the area burned down hundreds of shacks last week, and promised that his government would spend about $50,000 to help the victims recover.
Residents said the attacks were part of a turf war between gangs
in Port-au-Prince, with brothers Ronald and Franco Camille heading one
camp. The brothers have
allegedly collected protection money for years from merchants in La Saline's congested open-air markets.
On Friday, witnesses say, about 100 people took control of the streets and began calling for the market's ouster of the Camille brothers after their rivals had shot three people to death and injured at least a dozen.
Ronald Camille, nicknamed "Cadavre,'' is a former member of Aristide's security detail for whom two arrest warrants have been issued. One is for the Sept. 10 killing of a ``popular organization'' member in front of Parliament, and the other is for declining to appear for questioning in the investigation of the slaying of a journalist.
Residents of the slum say law enforcement agents have ignored the arrest warrants because of Cadavre's connections. Some Haitians say that police officers, alerted to Cadavre's presence, always manage to arrive after he leaves. According to reports in the Haitian media, both brothers are on the government's payroll. Ronald Camille claims that he heads a grassroots organization close to Aristide's Family Lavalas party.
During his tour of the area on Tuesday, Aristide promised residents that his government would help rebuild all the homes, according to a palace spokesman.
``He invited them to live peacefully one with another, and to avoid further violence or clashes that could lead to more disastrous consequences,'' said Luc Especa, a press secretary for the president. ``He asked to calm down, and said he doesn't have a preference of one group over another and that he loves them equally.''
Especa said police have made several arrests connected with the fire, but he would not give more details.
Residents say the fire was the culmination of three days of gang warfare in the area. On Friday, they said, armed attackers shot at them, looted their homes and tossed fire bombs.
The group opposed to Lavalas say those incidents are becoming common in the slums, where armed groups -- with some claiming to belong to the governing party -- fight for control.
``It is not just the people of La Saline who are facing the Lavalas sector's acts of banditry,'' said Evans Paul. ``The people of Cite Soleil went through the same situation. The same thing took place in Cap-Haitien also and things are not different in the Plateau Central area either.''