The Miami Herald
February 6, 2004

Rebels Take Over Haiti's Fourth-Largest City

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 5 An armed opposition group seized control of Haiti's fourth-largest city on Thursday, burning a police station, freeing prisoners and leaving at least 4 people reported dead and 20 wounded in clashes with the police.

Members of the Gonaïves Resistance Front began the assault shortly after noon in the city of Gonaïves, setting fire to the mayor's home and then dousing the police station with fuel and lighting it while officers fled, Haitian radio reported.

At least four opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide were killed in gun battles with the police, the Gonaïves Resistance Front leader Wynter Etienne told Radio Vision 2000. Radio Metropole reported 20 people had been wounded and more than 100 inmates had been freed from the jail.

"Gonaïves is liberated," Mr. Étienne told reporters in Gonaïves. "Aristide has to go."

Members of the armed group were once allied with Mr. Aristide but turned on him last year after their leader, Amiot Metayer, was found killed Sept. 22. Mr. Metayer had long supported Mr. Aristide, but many of his followers now accuse the government of involvement in the killing.

Mr. Aristide has denied involvement, saying only the opposition stood to gain.

Mr. Étienne said the group aimed to take control of other towns. Officials in Gonaïves could not immediately be reached for comment.

Members of the armed group set fire to both the home of the Gonaïves mayor, Stéphan Moïse, and a gas station he owns, private Radio Kiskeya reported.

Roughly 200,000 people live in Gonaïves and surrounding areas. The city about 70 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince has been the site of many protests led by Mr. Metayer's supporters, who recently changed their name from the Cannibal Army to the Gonaïves Resistance Front.

At least 51 people have been killed in Haiti since mid-September in clashes between the police, protesters and Aristide supporters.

Opposition leaders have demanded Mr. Aristide's resignation, accusing his government of incompetence and corruption.

Mr. Aristide has refused to step down before his term ends in 2006 and has defended his government, saying it has made progress despite many obstacles.