The Miami Herald
Wed, Mar. 10, 2004

U.S. forces to intervene in Haiti violence

Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Gerard Latortue, a former U.N. official chosen to lead Haiti out of political turmoil, returned from the United States Wednesday to begin the arduous task of building a government. Loyalists of the former president said they wouldn't accept him.

His arrival came as the U.S. military announced an escalation in its mission in the Caribbean nation, promising Marines will move quickly to stop Haitian-against-Haitian violence.

"They will intervene to protect life," Gen. James T. Hill, commander of U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at the Pentagon.

Since Sunday, Marines have killed at least four Haitians, including a driver who sped toward a checkpoint and a gunman who fired on an anti-Aristide demonstration. On Tuesday, the American troops shot to death two Haitians who opened fire near the outgoing prime minister's private residence.

After walking off a plane that brought him from Florida, Latortue shook hands with police officers and embraced relatives and friends. He was also greeted by members of a council that chose him to be the new prime minister.

Once critical of ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, he has said his first priority will be to unite a population divided between those who oppose the former leader and supporters who want to see him returned to power.

Aristide fled Feb. 29 amid international pressure to step down and a bloody rebellion that left more than 300 dead. The once popular slum priest, elected on promises to champion the poor, lost support as Haitians accused his government of corruption and attacks against his political opponents.

In the Central African Republic, Aristide still maintained he is the legitimate leader of Haiti and that U.S. officials forced him from office. On Wednesday, his lawyers said they were preparing cases accusing authorities in the United States and France of abducting him and forcing him into exile.

U.S. officials have denied they forced Aristide from office, saying they helped him escape Haiti with his life as rebels advanced on the capital.

Staff Sgt. Timothy Edwards said Marines were patrolling near the private residence of outgoing Prime Minister Yvon Neptune on Tuesday when they were shot at. The Marines fired back and killed at least two gunmen, he said. No peacekeepers were wounded.

The gunmen's bodies were not recovered but that is common. Peacekeepers must call health authorities to collect the remains, and family members sometimes take bodies away before they can be reported.

In a separate incident, several people got out of a car late Tuesday and opened fire on Marines, who shot back, U.S. Maj. Richard Crusan said. Three people then fled on foot, he said.

A body was still on the sidewalk early Wednesday near where the shooting occurred. Crusan and others refused to say whether the victim, who had been shot in the head, was involved.

"We found him this morning," resident Savoy Toussaint said of the body. "He doesn't have a face so we can't identify him."

Many Aristide supporters were angry over Tuesday's decision by the U.S.-backed advisory council to name Latortue prime minister.

"He doesn't understand the reality of the country," said Jacques Pierre, 49. "He doesn't understand our hunger."

The 69-year-old Latortue is a former foreign minister and spent part of his career with the U.N. Industrial Development Organization in Africa. He had also worked as an international business consultant in Miami.

It was unclear whether Neptune, who was appointed by Aristide, would remain in Haiti.

Latortue said his first priority is to unite the nation, a difficult task as both rebels and Aristide militants threaten more conflict if improvements do not happen quickly enough for them.

Anne-Marie Issa, a member of the council that picked Latortue, said the new leader likely will choose retired army chief-of-staff Gen. Herard Abraham as minister of security or defense and businessman Smarck Michel as minister of planning. Both were finalists for the prime minister post.

"It's for sure the priority is security," she said.

Latortue told the council he would either restructure the police or reconstitute the army to improve security, Issa said.

Haiti's army, which ousted Aristide months after he became the nation's first freely elected president in 1990, was disbanded in 1995 after a U.S. invasion restored Aristide to power.

Issa said the seven-member council will continue advising Latortue.

"We are the eyes of the people until they have a parliament," she said.

Latortue and interim President Boniface Alexandre will begin organizing elections and building a new government for Haiti. Under Aristide, the prime minister's position was largely ceremonial.

Aristide has been staying in the presidential palace in the Central African Republic since March 1. On Wednesday, a South African delegation visited him there to discuss his long-term asylum plans, Foreign Minister Charles Wenezoui told The Associated Press.

After the visit, South Africa Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad said the African Union - an organization representing 53 African nations - should arrange Aristide's long-term asylum plans.

After Aristide's ouster, South Africa was the country most often mentioned as his destination, a U.S. official said.

(Associated Press reporters Ian James and Peter Prengaman in Port-au-Prince contributed to this story.)