The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 24, 2004; Page A01

U.S. Marines Fortify Haiti Embassy

Anti-Aristide Group Gives Talks More Time

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 23 -- As 50 U.S. Marines arrived here Monday to protect the U.S. Embassy amid growing political violence, a broad coalition opposed to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said a U.S.-backed plan to share power with the embattled president was "an open door to bloodshed."

"We are tired of burying our people," said opposition leader Charles Baker, who said 18 days of rebel violence, which has left much of this impoverished country under the control of a few hundred anti-government militiamen, had been caused by three years of Aristide "terrorizing the Haitian people."

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell telephoned opposition leaders on Monday, urging them to delay for one more day their final decision on the U.S.-led diplomatic proposal, which calls for replacing the prime minister and holding internationally monitored parliamentary elections. It would allow Aristide to stay in power until his term expires in 2006.

The plan was proposed Saturday by a group of international diplomats led by Roger F. Noriega, the top official for Latin America at the State Department, who met here with Aristide and his opponents. That diplomatic move came after weeks of reluctance by the Bush administration to become involved in resolving the latest violence in the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation.

The opposition leader said the coalition would honor Powell's request and welcomed his pledge to be "personally involved" in the crisis. Members of the group said they hoped that in the next 24 hours Powell would come up with a new proposal that would include Aristide's ouster. They said they were "adamant" that they would not accept any plan that left him in office.

"The people of Haiti are tired of being terrorized," Baker told reporters in the capital. "Going into an accord like the one that was presented to us means only one thing: two more years of terrorizing the Haitian people."

Evans Paul, another opposition leader, said that Powell's name means "does not see" in Haitian Creole. "Maybe if he comes back and really sees what's happening, he will definitely understand our position and give us more support," Paul said through an interpreter. Powell, along with former president Jimmy Carter, negotiated the return of Aristide to power in 1994, after he was ousted in a military coup.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said a political settlement would win support from worried Haitians and "have a calming effect on the violence."

If the deal is accepted, Boucher said, international police would be dispatched to "help the Haitian police establish themselves and maintain order." The Bush administration has not detailed the role it would play in such an effort.

A U.S. official said Ambassador James Foley was continuing to negotiate with opposition leaders Monday night, hoping to find a solution that would avert further bloodshed. Officials from Canada, France, the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community also have been involved in the negotiations. Foreign diplomats said the international participants would be "guarantors," and would begin to monitor compliance within 48 hours of a deal being signed.

Although the opposition leaders in Port-au-Prince represent a broad range of business and civic groups, their calls for nonviolent political solutions are being drowned out by a few hundred armed anti-Aristide fighters, many former army officers who have been living in exile. Aristide disbanded the army after U.S. troops restored him to power in 1994, part of a $2.3 billion effort to establish order and democracy in a country where 80 percent of the 8 million people live in poverty.

The uprising has gathered momentum since Feb. 5, when rebels overran police in Gonaives, about 70 miles north of here, and took control of the city. Since then at least 60 people, mostly police, have been reported killed.

In the nearly three weeks since then, ragtag bands of rebels have taken larger and larger swaths of the northern part of the country with little resistance from Haiti's undermanned national police. On Sunday, rebels took Cap-Haitien, the country's second-largest city, with surprising ease. Armed militia groups loyal to Aristide have set up roadblocks to help the nation's 3,000 police officers keep the rebels away from this capital city of nearly 1.3 million people. It remains unclear whether the rebel groups are coordinating with each other or are simply fighting in parallel toward the shared goal of removing Aristide.

News reports said there were demonstrations in Cap-Haitien in favor of the rebellion Monday, some people chanting "Aristide get out!" and "Goodbye, Aristide." Looters stole 800 tons of food from the U.N. World Food Program warehouse, the Associated Press reported, quoting an agency employee. Streets in Port-au-Prince were calm as residents participated in pre-Lenten carnival celebrations.

In Cap-Haitien Monday, rebel leader Louis Jodel Chamblain, a former army officer, declared that he controlled insurgents in all parts of the country and that they intended to enter the National Palace in Port-au-Prince and remove Aristide by force, according to radio reports. He did not say when that might happen, but other rebel leaders have said it could occur in the coming days.

With that threat looming, the Marines arrived Monday in a C-130 transport plane, at the Port-au-Prince airport. Officials here said the Marines would protect the embassy and staff against any political violence or the looting and lawlessness that could accompany it. Most of the embassy's nonessential employees have already left the country, and the State Department has advised the roughly 20,000 U.S. citizens living here to leave as well.

Opposition leaders in Port-au-Prince condemned the rebels' violence, but they said the only way to stop it was with the departure of Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who rose to prominence championing the poor in defiance of the brutal Duvalier family dictatorship that ended in 1986.

"The Haitian people's voice today is very clear; they want Aristide to leave," said opposition leader Hans Tippenhauer, who said that the anti-government rebels had been greeted as "freedom fighters" by people across Haiti.

Aristide's opponents have charged that he has abandoned his commitment to the poor. They also contend that armed Aristide supporters have beaten and killed the president's opponents with impunity. Aristide has denied supporting or condoning violence.

"We feel crushed between two movements, an armed movement coming from the north and a terrorizing and criminal government in the palace right now," said Andre Apaid Jr., a U.S.-born businessman and prominent opposition leader. He said Aristide is responsible for all the violence, which is not allowing moderate Haitians to "build a democratic center."

"One man cannot keep hostage a nation," Apaid said. "He must resign."

Staff writer Peter Slevin in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2004