The Miami Herald
Mar. 24, 2004
Rebels, police clash in port city

Police and rebels struggle for power in the strategic northern port of Cap Haitien, where rebels assumed control after Jean-Bertrand Aristide stepped down.

Associated Press

CAP HAITIEN, Haiti - Police and former rebels held emergency talks Tuesday after gunfire erupted within 48 hours of the return of police to Cap Haitien. Rebels had claimed the strategic port city during the insurgency that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Late Monday, shots rang out in front of a charred police station manned by rebels and by a hillside hotel rebels used as a headquarters after they seized the city Feb. 22.

Neither side admitted to firing the shots.

The dispute underscores the challenges in Haiti's north, where rebels have stepped in to fill the void in law enforcement. During the insurgency, many police and government workers fled their posts fearing reprisal attacks.

''There are some problems between factions of the police and rebels right now, but we're trying to work out these misunderstandings,'' said Renan Etienne, the city's new police chief and director of police in the country's northern departments.

More than 30 police officers have returned to the city, Haiti's second largest with more than 500,000 people, but former rebels still outnumber and outgun police.

Human-rights groups have criticized the former rebels for targeting former supporters of Aristide or his Lavalas Family party. On Tuesday, the ex-commandos were holding five prisoners and had just released nearly a dozen who they say committed crimes ranging from theft to illegal weapons. Two were being held on allegations they were armed Aristide loyalists.

Rights groups also were questioning interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue's actions at a weekend rally, where he celebrated the gangsters who began Haiti's uprising as ``freedom fighters.''

The New York-based National Coalition for Haitian Rights accused Latortue of ''fanning the flames of lawlessness'' when he shared a platform with rebel leaders in Gonaives on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Lavalas officials appeared to be regrouping and warned there could be no peace without the participation of Haiti's largest political movement.

''Everywhere Lavalas is a victim,'' said Sen. Yvon Feuille, a Lavalas member. 'Besides those physical massacres, we see there is a political massacre being prepared behind Lavalas' back.''

``Without Lavalas, there is no solution.''

Aristide left Feb. 29 as rebels threatened to attack Port-au-Prince. Some 3,300 troops from the United States, France, Chile and Canada are in Haiti as peacekeepers.

Latortue last week formed a transitional government that he said is neutral but includes no Lavalas member.

Aristide is visiting Jamaica, but Nigeria said it has agreed to grant him temporary asylum. Allies said the exiled leader is not interested.