The New York Times
March 6, 2004

U.S. Special Forces in Haiti Seeking Out Rebel Leaders

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 5 Newly arrived United States Special Forces sought out rebel leaders on Friday, as marines at the presidential palace were jeered and cursed by demonstrators loyal to the deposed president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The American commandos are in the rebel strongholds of Cap Haitien and Gonaïves, an American commander said. The commander, Gen. James T. Hill, said the rebels had not laid down their weapons as they had promised, though some had withdrawn from the capital.

Their most prominent leader, Guy Philippe, "is still in the city, and we are still looking for him to lay down his arms," said General Hill, who heads the Pentagon's Southern Command.

General Hill, flanked by commanders of French, Canadian and Chilean forces at the international airport here, denounced the rebels' call for the re-establishment of the Haitian Army. The Haitian military, long an instrument of political terror, overthrew President Aristide in 1991.

"There is no need for a Haitian Army," General Hill said forcefully. "I was here when President Aristide disbanded it, and that was the correct thing to do at the time."

Mr. Aristide, who was returned to power by American forces in 1994, disbanded the army in 1995. He left Haiti on Sunday under pressure from the United States and the armed rebels. The rebel uprising began one month ago in Gonaïves, spread to Cap Haitien and then swept into Port-au-Prince on Monday.

The American Special Forces sent to Cap Haitien and Gonaïves are trained and equipped to operate at the limits of the laws of war, and often serve as point men for conventional military forces, gathering intelligence and carving out forward positions.

In the capital, the American ambassador, James B. Foley, said a Haitian "council of elders" was formed Friday afternoon. He said the council would nominate members of a provisional "government of national unity" that would eventually run the country.

At midday on Friday at the presidential palace, several hundred hooting protesters loyal to the deposed president shouted angrily at about 30 marines who passed through the palace gates on foot, in trucks and in armored vehicles, armed with assault weapons, machine guns and missiles.

General Hill described the street politics in Port-au-Prince as peaceful democratic protests. Several thousand Aristide loyalists took part.

"They kidnapped Aristide," Égalité Smith, 31, said of the Americans. "We want no war, but we want no occupation of Haiti."

General Hill acknowledged that "some people say it's an occupation." But he said the mission of the multinational military force here was "the re-establishment of the rule of law." To that end, he said, the military would work to establish a police force from the remains of the national police.

That force was created nine years ago under President Aristide, during the last American military mission here. Many of the policemen sided with the rebels who took the capital by storm on Monday.

The Bush administration is also calling on the Haitian Coast Guard to help prevent Haitian refugees from leaving by boat. The Associated Press reported that the administration had informed Congress that it would pay the salaries of the Haitian Coast Guard for up to three months as well as repair damage to its facilities.

Luis Moreno, the deputy chief of mission for the American Embassy here, visited the coast guard headquarters this week with American troops to assess the security situation for the anticipated return of asylum-seekers intercepted at sea.

Security was uppermost in the mind of Dr. Philippe Desmangles, a surgeon at the Polyclinique Centrale, a hospital sacked during the rebel uprising.

"They've secured an empty palace," he said of the American soldiers here.

"We needed security here," at the hospital, he added. "But that did not interest them. They tell the rebels they cannot be involved in the politics of our country. Some of us feel the same way about them."

The doctor, who was the only surgeon on duty at the only well-functioning hospital in the capital, said he was "one of the best-paid doctors in the country." He makes about $45 a week.

The flow of food, medicine and other international aid has resumed here, but very slowly. Many international aid agencies' stores were looted during the rebel advance on the capital.

Dr. Desmangles said the donations he had received in the last year were "mostly worthless recycled materials."

"We have bullet wounds, dying people, every disease," he said. "If other nations want to help, they will send doctors, not junk."