Sunday, February 8, 2004

Scenes of horror in Haiti battles

GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) --Police reinforcements fought bloody battles with gunmen as
they tried to retake Haiti's fourth-largest city from rebels who seized it two days earlier
in a challenge to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At least three police were killed Saturday, and crowds mutilated the corpses.
One body was dragged through the street as a man swung at it with a machete.
A woman cut off the officer's ear.

Another policeman was lynched and stripped to his shorts, and residents
dropped a large rock on his corpse.

Rebels said they killed 14 police officers, Haitian radio stations reported; but
the claim could not be confirmed.

The uprising appeared to be spreading. Armed Aristide opponents seized the
police station in the west coast town of St. Marc on Saturday, firing into the air
and chasing police away, private Radio Kiskeya reported.

Militants also have attacked police stations and forced out police in at least five
small towns near Gonaives, Haitian radio reports said. Judge Walter Pierre told
private Radio Ginen that armed men were occupying the police station in the
town of Anse Rouge on Saturday and had confiscated weapons.

The rebellion had not yet reached Port-au-Prince, the capital, where throngs of
government supporters marched Saturday to mark the third anniversary of
Aristide's second inauguration.

Anger has been brewing in Haiti since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative
elections in 2000. The opposition refuses to join in any new vote unless Aristide
resigns, which he refuses to do before his term ends in 2006.

At least 61 people have been killed in the Caribbean country since
mid-September in clashes between police, government opponents and Aristide

An armed group known as the Gonaives Resistance Front drove police from
Gonaives' police station during a five-hour gunbattle on Thursday, then torched
the station and other buildings. At least seven people were killed and 20

About 150 police re-entered Gonaives Saturday morning, ignoring a hail of
rocks from protesters and waging gunbattles with armed rebels who hid on side
streets and crouched in doorways.

"I'm not a terrorist. I am fighting for the Haitian people," militant leader Wilfort
Ferdinand, 27, said from a second-floor balcony, holding an M-16 rifle.

It was unclear how many gunmen were fighting, but on Friday thousands of
protesters marched outside Gonaives, vowing to repel any attempt to retake
the city, which with its suburbs encompasses about 200,000 people.

One bystander was wounded in the face by a police bullet, and he gushed
blood on a hospital gurney while awaiting treatment.

Some gunmen wore the camouflage pants of Haiti's disbanded army, which
Aristide eliminated in 1995.

"I am ready to lay down my weapons as soon as Aristide leaves. Gonaives
today is in the hands of the Resistance," Ferdinand said. "We are few in number
but we have the support of the people."

The group is not asking for money or weapons, only international help in
removing Aristide, he said. Ferdinand, known by the nickname Ti-Wil, said
Aristide once gave his group weapons to crush the opposition.

The Gonaives Resistance Front used to be allied with Aristide. But the gang
turned against Aristide last year and changed its name from the "Cannibal
Army," accusing the government of killing its leader Amiot Metayer to keep him
from releasing damaging information about Aristide. The government denies it.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Friday saying it "categorically rejects all

A number of people in Gonaives, meanwhile, said they support the militants.
Some said they formed neighborhood committees to aid the militants and
questioned visitors.

"We have placed our trust in the Gonaives Resistance Front. If the police
counterattack, they'll be met with stiff resistance," said Jean Roland, 23.

Police set up a headquarters in a school and returned to the police station
where looters took guns Friday.

The gunmen attacked symbols of Aristide's authority on Thursday, freeing
prisoners and burning the mayor's home, businesses he owned and another
office in Gonaives, 70 miles (112 kilometers) northwest of Port-au-Prince.

The army ousted Aristide in 1991 during his first term. He was restored in a
1994 U.S. invasion and then disbanded the army.

Former soldiers have been blamed for a series of attacks in the past year that
killed at least 25 people in the Central Plateau, east of Gonaives.

Haiti's national security adviser, Dany Fabien, on Friday called the Gonaives
attack "the bourgeoisie against the people." He said police would respond said
that "the last word belongs to the people."

Police, meanwhile, arrested human rights activist Ketly Julien and three others
in the capital Friday, charging them with plotting a coup. The others included
former provincial police chief Edouard Petithomme and his wife Rosemarie, a
Haitian-American who is a U.S. citizen. They have denied the charges.

In downtown Miami on Saturday, about 100 Haitians rallied in support of
Aristide's ouster, waving Haitian flags and chanting "Aristide must go!"
Advocacy groups estimate about 300,000 Haitians live in South Florida.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.