Rebel Leader in Haiti Says His Work Is Done
Philippe promises that his forces will bow out. Foreign troops prepare to provide security, and Caribbean nations want an inquiry into ouster.
By Carol J. Williams
Times Staff Writer
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — As Marines in Humvees began patrolling this capital, rebel leader Guy Philippe declared his mission accomplished Wednesday and said his forces would lay down their arms now that Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had fled into exile.
More than 2,000 soldiers from nations including the United States, France, Canada and Chile have arrived in Haiti since Aristide left the country Sunday, but Port-au-Prince has continued to be plagued by looting, destruction and revenge killings.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Marine commander here said foreign forces were ready to begin stepping into the security void and protecting Haitians.
Caribbean nations, however, said they would refrain from taking part in the peacekeeping effort, in protest of what they saw as the unsavory role played by unnamed Western countries — presumably France and the United States — in Aristide's ouster.
The 15-nation Caribbean Community, or Caricom, which includes Haiti, had pushed the U.N. Security Council to send an international protection force to Haiti three days before Aristide fled for exile in Africa, but the plea was rebuffed. After his departure, the council quickly approved an international stabilization force and Marines began arriving.
"We could not fail to observe that what was impossible on Thursday could be accomplished in an emergency meeting on Sunday. We are disappointed in the extreme at the failure to act," P.J. Patterson, Jamaica's prime minister, said on behalf of the Caricom nations. The group also called for the United Nations or some other independent body to investigate the circumstances of Aristide's departure.
Aristide, who became Haiti's first democratically elected president in 1990, has accused the United States of forcing him out in what he called a "modern kidnapping" and a "modern coup d'etat." Haiti's neighbors believe he was coerced into fleeing.
The leader, who was deposed in a 1991 coup, left Sunday as Philippe's rebels advanced on the capital, vowing to capture him and put him on trial on charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
Washington and Paris, fearing a bloodbath if the rebels and armed street gangs loyal to the president confronted each other, strongly suggested that Aristide resign for the good of the country.
In Washington on Wednesday, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America defended the administration's decision not to shield Aristide from the rebels, saying the United States should not risk its soldiers' lives for failing governments.
Appearing before a House subcommittee, Assistant Secretary of State Roger Noriega said that although the United States cannot choose which foreign governments it must deal with, "we do have to decide where we put American lives at risk," and it should not put them in danger "merely to keep [governments] in power a little bit longer."
The choice should be based on "whether we think it's a viable, sustainable investment for American foreign policy," Noriega said. He also described Aristide as "not a reliable person."
Though the administration dropped its support of Aristide, it has said it did not believe the rebels should have a role in Haiti's future government. Some among Philippe's Front for the Liberation of Haiti are convicted killers and war crimes suspects, and international human rights groups have been demanding their arrest and prosecution.
Philippe was summoned to the residence of U.S. Ambassador James B. Foley early Wednesday and told to make good on his pledges to disarm and leave Port-au-Prince as soon as Aristide was driven from power.
Marine Col. Mark Gurganus also conferred with Philippe.
"We asked him to honor what he said he would do and lay down his weapons," said Gurganus, who met with the rebel leader for about 10 minutes. "I asked him to help contribute to the stability, and I will tell you I was very happy with his response. I think he'll be a man of honor and I think he'll do what he said."
Philippe, who just a day earlier had proclaimed himself commandant of a resurrected Haitian army, said his group would bow out of the capital now that troops of the multinational security force were deployed and had promised to protect the Haitian people.
"We have decided to lay down our arms," Philippe told journalists at a hotel that has been his base. "The front from now on has no men patrolling the streets."
Philippe said his men would turn their arms over to interim President Boniface Alexandre, the former Supreme Court chief justice sworn in three hours after Aristide departed. It was unclear when, however.
After several days in which the Marines said they had no mandate to protect Haitians from violence, Gurganus said Wednesday that he had committed foreign forces to stepped-up patrolling of Port-au-Prince. Marines rolled out of the National Palace grounds in Humvees to survey the rubble-strewn downtown, where businesses have been looted and burned by pro-Aristide gunmen as slum dwellers swarmed behind them to grab goods in their wake.
The multinational troops have orders to protect foreign nationals, diplomatic property, several key Haitian government installations and citizens at risk of bodily harm. Gurganus said they had no mandate to disarm either the rebels or pro-Aristide gunmen.
"I'm not interested in who's got the weapons. I'm interested in everyone who's got weapons," the commander said. "We're not interested in choosing sides."
Despite the more active stance of international forces, looting continued at the capital's ransacked port and an industrial park. A late-morning gun battle in the city's La Saline slum broke out when rebels attempted to disarm supporters of Aristide.
The chaos that has prevailed in much of Haiti has prevented an accurate count of victims since the uprising began Feb. 5, but officials at the morgue in Port-au-Prince said they had received 30 bodies since Sunday, when the count was thought to exceed 100.
Business owners had welcomed the rebels as the only force capable of containing the lawlessness.
"Originally there was the belief that we could legitimize this," businessman Andre Apaid said of the rebels. "It was made clear that everybody needs help [protecting their property], but we wanted [Philippe's] movement to answer to civilian authority."
The only remaining vestiges of Aristide's government are Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and a few Cabinet members in hiding. Neptune declared a state of emergency Wednesday, though it was unclear what that meant given that the government has been able to exert almost no control on the streets.
The first step toward seating a new prime minister and Cabinet was taken late Wednesday, when Aristide's Lavalas Party and opposition politicians both named their representatives to a three-member commission that will choose a seven-member Council of Sages. The commission also includes a U.N. official.
Alexandre, the commission and the council will name a prime minister to replace Neptune and a new Cabinet to govern with the sages until presidential and parliamentary elections can be organized.
Because Haiti's Parliament ceased to function in January and Aristide's repression of media and opposition parties damaged most political institutions, the negotiators of Haiti's political future expect that they will need 18 to 24 months to prepare for balloting.
Times staff writers John-Thor Dahlburg in Port-au-Prince and Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.