The Miami Herald
Fri, Mar. 05, 2004
Work starts on choosing leader

The political process to select a new national leader and install a temporary government gets under way.


PORT-AU-PRINCE -- A three-member commission Thursday began working to select a new prime minister and a transition government to end the power vacuum left by former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's resignation amid a bloody rebellion.

But the rapidly expanding force of foreign peacekeepers in the capital and beyond did not halt sporadic gunfire between gangs loyal or opposed to Aristide, or quell violence in the countryside.

In Petite-Goave, 20 miles west of the capital, residents stoned an alleged Aristide militant, flung gas over him and burned him alive. And in Gressier, six miles to the west, four bodies were found, the hands of three of them tied behind their back, bullet wounds in the head.


American Airlines said it had postponed the resumption of flights to Haiti, suspended Feb. 26, from Friday until Tuesday.

The three-man commission met Thursday for the first time to begin the task of selecting a seven-member council of ''wise men,'' which will name a new prime minister and transitional cabinet.

Sitting on the commission are Leslie Voltaire, the Aristide government's minister for Haitians Living Abroad; Paul Denis, a former opposition senator; and Adama Guindo, the U.N. Development Program coordinator in Haiti.

Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, an Aristide loyalist and now largely a figurehead, said he had selected Voltaire under pressure from U.S. Ambassador James B. Foley. ''I have no control over the process,'' Neptune told The Herald.

Echoing Aristide's charges that U.S. officials forced him to resign and leave Haiti, Neptune said the search for a new government is questionable. ''It is my position that . . . the process should be delayed,'' he said.

Despite the continuing clouds hanging over Aristide's resignation, U.S. officials were moving rapidly to restore Haiti's government coffers and security.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bipartisan amendment to provide $150 million for security, counter-narcotics and humanitarian and economic relief. Sponsored by Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson, the measure almost triples the $52 million approved for the year.

And the international security force continued to grow. On Thursday, some 1,000 U.S. Marines, 440 French security agents, 120 Chilean army troops and some 60 Canadians were on the ground. Brazil promised 1,100 soldiers.

More significantly, the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command announced U.S. forces had moved outside the capital for ``visits throughout Haiti to conduct security assessments and provide assistance to Haitian government officials.''

But there was still no word on whether the international force would try to disarm the armed gangs still killing and burning in the dead of night.

''We're not tasked with disarming at this point,'' said spokesman Staff Sgt. Timothy Edwards. ``Hopefully, those outside the city will see what we're doing here and decide to disarm . . . Hopefully, we won't go out there.''

Aristide, who was elected in 1990, ousted by a military coup in 1991 and returned to power by U.S. troops in 1994, fled Haiti on Sunday amid a rebellion that began Feb. 5 and left more than 130 dead. Opposition to his leadership stemmed largely from allegations of corruption and fraud in the 2000 elections.

His flight into exile in the Central African Republic came hours before armed rebels paraded into the capital and the first batch of U.S. Marines took up strategic posts at the airport, seaport and National Palace.


There were no signs of rebels in the capital Thursday, one day after they agreed to lay down their weapons.

Ellen Powers, executive director of Project Medishare, which operates a University of Miami-affiliated health clinic in the central town of Thomonde, said in an e-mail Thursday that rebels there ``handed over their weapons and the local police have returned and are now providing security.''

Back in Port-au-Prince, Prime Minister Neptune estimated the damage from the rebellion and looting at $300 million and said he had frozen all government bank accounts except those controlled by the president, the Associated Press reported.

Some 70 Haitian police officers joined the foreign troops patrolling the capital, a clear sign that newly installed Police Chief Leon Charles was taking charge. Charles, a former head of the Haitian Coast Guard, had worked with U.S. authorities for several years in anti-narcotics efforts.

At the main police barracks, Commissioner Claude Moise Marckinsky said his agents would try to disarm the gangs and recapture the hundreds of prisoners released from jails during the revolt.

Herald staff writers Joe Mozingo and Susannah A. Nesmith contributed to this report.