The Washington Post
Saturday, February 21, 2004; Page A16

Foreigners Leave Haiti as Unrest Persists

Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 20 -- Missionaries, international aid workers and other foreigners left Haiti on Friday to escape a two-week-old rebellion that has overwhelmed the impoverished country's north. Many police deserted their posts, and rebels threatened new attacks.

Government supporters burned down 15 homes in the western port of St. Marc overnight, and three people died, independent Radio Galaxie reported.

A day after the U.S. government urged Americans to leave Haiti, more than 200 Americans, French and Canadians stood in lines Friday at Toussaint Louverture International Airport, waiting to get out of the country.

The U.S. government said it has begun placing air marshals on flights by all U.S. airlines in and out of Haiti because of hijacking fears, officials in Washington said. American Airlines said seats were sold out on four of its five flights to the United States Friday.

"We knew that it was right for us to leave. It's just hard," said Nancy McWilliams, an 18-year-old from Ottawa, who abandoned a volunteer job at a children's home in the northern town of Cap-Haitien.

Gerald St. Vincent, an American missionary waiting for a flight to Miami, said Haitians would resolve their problems "only if they have help from outside sources -- not less help, but more."

The uprising began when rebels took the city of Gonaives on Feb. 5; they have since pushed police out of more than a dozen towns in the north. The rebels accuse President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of breaking his promises to help the poor and of driving the country into chaos while quietly supporting attacks on opponents -- charges the president denies.

A U.S. official said Prime Minister Yvon Neptune had sent a letter to the U.S. ambassador, James Foley, requesting help with strengthening the police and judiciary and restoring order.

On Friday, American and other diplomats presented Aristide with a plan that calls for an interim governing council to advise him. The plan would also provide for the disarming of politically allied street gangs and the appointment of a prime minister agreeable to both sides. But it would not require Aristide to resign, which the opposition has demanded, and neither side indicated they would accept it.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has said the United States would not object if Aristide agreed to leave office early. The president's term ends in February 2006, and he has said he will not leave before that.

About 1,000 protesters marching in an anti-government rally on Friday were attacked by Aristide supporters, who threw rocks and bottles and fired guns.

More than 20 people were injured and at least two were shot, according to hospital and Red Cross officials. One of those shot was a reporter with Radio Ibo, the station said.

No foreigners have been reported killed in the uprising, which has claimed the lives of more than 60 Haitians, including about 40 police officers. Armed men have threatened missionaries and journalists.

There are an estimated 30,000 foreigners in Haiti, including about 20,000 Americans. An unknown number of them also hold Haitian passports.

© 2004