BBC News
Sunday, 29 February, 2004

Guy Philippe: The rebelling soldier

Guy Philippe, who is emerging as the leader of the armed rebellion against President Aristide's rule, had promised to celebrate his 36th birthday in the Haitian capital on Sunday.

And even though he delayed plans for a final push on Port-au-Prince, he remains in a remarkably strong position for someone who only returned from exile three weeks ago.

Since the disparate group of gang members and former officials from the security forces began their campaign to oust the president, they have swept through the north of the impoverished island.

Mr Philippe said on Saturday that he was holding back a final assault to "give peace its opportunity".

Army training

Mr Philippe, 36, says he has a law degree from Ecuador and studied medicine in Mexico for a year.

His critics allege a questionable human rights record and point to rumoured involvement with military dictator Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier's regime in the 1980s.

In 1990, Mr Aristide was first elected president, but within a year had been overthrown in a coup and was exiled to the United States.

Mr Philippe, who was by then in the army, escaped to Ecuador, where he allegedly received training from US Special Forces as part of the US campaign to reinstate Mr Aristide.

He returned to Haiti in 1994, after Mr Aristide had been restored to power. In 1995 - fearing another coup attempt - Mr Aristide disbanded the army.

Mr Philippe was incorporated into the new National Police Force, eventually serving as police chief in Cap-Haitien.

Coup 'plots'

Under Rene Preval, the new president elected in 1995, Mr Philippe helped hunt down members of the ousted military junta - including former members of the now-disbanded army, with some of whom he now claims a common cause.

But Mr Philippe's career in the police came to an abrupt end in 2000, when the authorities accused him of plotting a coup with other police chiefs.

He fled - first to Ecuador, then to the neighbouring Dominican Republic.

In December 2001, when armed men tried to seize the presidential National Palace, a year after disputed elections returned Mr Aristide to office for a second term, authorities accused Mr Philippe of masterminding the operation.

But extradition negotiations failed, and Mr Philippe remained at large.

While in the Dominican Republic, Mr Philippe's reputed taste for luxury hotels fuelled speculation he was involved in drugs trafficking - a charge that he vehemently denied in a recent interview.

"You can look in all the banks of the world, but you will not find any money of mine, because I am not rich," he said.


On around 10 February, Mr Philippe - who is now married to an American from Wisconsin - slipped back over the border to assume leadership of what he claims is a unified rebel army, the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Haiti.

But his ambitions are unclear. He told the Washington Post he was not interested in running for president and was focussed solely on removing Mr Aristide from office.

"I don't know why the international community is talking about 'the elected president'," he said.

"They know he was not elected, so why the hypocrisy? Why can't they say the truth?

"Democracy is not a five-year term. Democracy is a set of principles, the right to live, the right to eat, the right to education, the right to health. Aristide is working against all those principles."