The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 10, 2004; Page A18

Haiti's Prime Minister Chosen

Move by U.S.-Backed Council Is Step Toward Interim Government

Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 9 -- Haiti's U.S.-backed advisory council named a former government official as the country's new prime minister Tuesday, according to two leading opposition politicians.

The appointment of former foreign minister Gerard Latortue, also reported by Haitian radio stations, was a step toward forming a transitional government and eventually organizing elections to replace Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the exiled president.

Efforts to bring calm to this troubled Caribbean nation were ongoing after a rebel insurgency led to Aristide's departure for the Central African Republic on Feb. 29. At least 130 people were killed in the rebellion; reprisal killings since Aristide's ouster have left at least 300 dead.

A U.S. military officer said Marines will begin helping Haitian police disarm rebel groups. Marine Col. Charles Gurganus called on Haitians to turn in their arms and to inform peacekeepers about who had weapons. "The disarmament will be both active and reactive, but I'm not going to say any more about that," he said.

Gurganus said that Haitian police would lead disarmament efforts, but that peacekeepers would assist in getting "the weapons off the street" starting Wednesday.

The U.S. military also announced the second death of a Haitian shot by U.S. forces, who, with French Legionnaires, form the vanguard of a U.N.-backed peacekeeping mission.

In Washington, officials said Marines in both incidents were acting within orders.

"An individual Marine . . . has an absolute right to defend himself and those around him," said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Officials said about 1,600 Marines were in Haiti, assigned to protect key sites, such as government buildings and the airport. Officials said they were not under orders to stop looting, even of American companies, and were not to use force to halt Haitian-on-Haitian violence.

An official announcement on Latortue was expected early Wednesday, but two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that he was the choice.

The advisory council was chosen to pick the new prime minister, who along with interim President Boniface Alexandre is to try to build a new government for Haiti. Latortue, who served as foreign minister in 1988 under President Leslie Manigat, was set to replace Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. He still must formally accept the offer, and it was unclear whether he was in Haiti or in Florida, where he had been living.

Neptune stayed in his post even after Aristide fled. Aristide opponents have demanded that Neptune be replaced.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that he hoped foreign governments would have the patience and stamina necessary to commit to Haiti "for the long haul. It's going to take time, it's going to take lots of hard work," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "And we should not expect to do a Band-Aid job for two years or so, and then turn around and leave, only to have to return."

Aristide, meanwhile, has insisted that he is still president and that he was removed by the U.S. government, which U.S. officials deny.

© 2004