The Miami Herald
Sat, Mar. 06, 2004
Top rebel wavers on disarming

A Haitian rebel leader seesaws on disarming, backers of the exiled president assail President Bush, and the OAS says a council of 'sages' will name a new prime minister.


PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Rebel leader Guy Philippe, in a worrisome flip-flop, said Friday his fighters would not disarm unless they are guaranteed they will not be prosecuted for their role in forcing former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign.

Several thousand Aristide supporters marched to the National Palace and shouted anti-Bush slogans, underlining their deep resentment over Washington's involvement in the president's sudden resignation last weekend.

The Organization of American States announced that a council of seven ''sages'' had been formed to name a new prime minister within a week and an interim cabinet. All seven are respected Haitians, but they include no prominent members of Aristide's Lavalas Family Party.

Philippe, who on Sunday declared himself ''military commander'' of Haiti, then on Monday said he had ordered his men to disarm, told The Herald that he had done nothing to disband his fighters -- and perhaps could not.

''I can give the order. Will they obey me if they don't have a guarantee?'' he said in an interview at the bar of a suburban Petionville hotel. 'You really think they will obey me if I tell them to disarm, like this, with no talk, no guarantee? I can't order them to disarm like this. You can kill the chief, but you wont' find the weapons.''

At the National Palace, the seat of Haiti's government, about 5,000 Aristide supporters paraded past U.S. Marine guards, many carrying photographs of the former president and chanting ''Long live Aristide!'' and ``Down with George Bush!''

''I want to tell George Bush he has failed,'' said Daniel Delva, 35, at the first large protest in favor of Aristide since the ousted president fled to Africa as Philippe's rebels prepared for a final push on the capital and the United States and France pressed the former priest to bow out.

A much smaller cluster of people remained at the palace gates, waiting to see what the Marines would do.

''I don't want them to stay in there, I want them to patrol,'' said Jean Bernarto, 29. ``We want the country to be revived. They are here to do that, but up until now, they haven't done anything.''

U.S. Ambassador James Foley rejected complaints that the U.S.-led international military force was not doing enough to return security to a nation in shambles after a four-week revolt that left more than 130 dead.

''With Aristide's departure, not only was he able to save his own life, but the rapid deployment of the force prevented what . . . would have been an untold catastrophe of violence, counter-violence, revenge, looting and destruction,'' he said.

Gen. James Hill, commander of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, made a brief tour of the capital and said U.S. Special Forces had been in the northern cities of Gonaives and Cap Haitien, assessing security in preparation for foreign patrols.

Gonaives was the first city to fall to the rebels, on Feb. 5, and Cap Haitien followed on Feb. 22.

Hill, speaking before the Herald interview with Philippe, also said efforts were under way to get Philippe to stick to his pledge to disarm his men, most of them veterans of the Haitian army that Aristide abolished in 1995.

''We are working with him to get him to lay down his arms, which I believe he will do,'' Hill said.

The international military presence meanwhile grew to about 1,900 on Friday, including 1,200 from the United States, 500 from France, 130 from Chile and 60 from Canada. Canada announced Friday it will send a total of 450 troops.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher again denied allegations the Bush administration essentially forced Aristide to resign by refusing to send troops to defend him as rebels approached the capital.

''We can't be called upon, expected or required to intervene every time there is violence against a failed leader,'' Boucher said. ``We can't spend our time running around the world and the hemisphere saving people who botched their chance at leadership.''

Herald staff writers Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince and Jacqueline Charles and Carol Rosenberg in Miami contributed to this report.