South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 23, 2004

50 Marines arrive in Haiti as rebels threaten Port-au-Prince

Associated Press

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti -- Fifty Marines arrived in Haiti on Monday to protect the U.S. Embassy and its staff after rebels who have overrun Haiti's second-largest city and thave hreatened to attack the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Residents of Cap-Haitien went on a rampage of reprisal and looting for a second day as supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide armed themselves and set up burning barricades outside Port-au-Prince. There were ominous but unconfirmed reports of rebels executing Aristide backers.

The Marines were dispatched to the capital to secure the embassy and protct its staff, according to Western diplomats and a Defense Department official.

Two police stations outside Port-au-Prince were attacked Sunday, leaving one passer-by dead, independent Radio Kiskeya reported.

A homemade bomb exploded overnight at Carnival celebrations at the Champs de Mars _ Port-au-Prince's central plaza in front of the presidential National Palace,
killing one teenager and wounding two people, radio stations reported.

The takeover of Cap-Haitien by about 200 fighters was the most significant advance by Aristide's opponents since the uprising began Feb 5. More than 70 people have
been killed, including 17 on Sunday.

There were occasional bursts of gunfire Monday in Cap-Hatien, a city of 500,000 on Haiti's north coast. Rebels celebrated and detained supposed Aristide militants.

``I am a brick mason, I didn't do anything wrong!'' Jean-Bernard Prevalis, 33, pleaded as he was dragged away, his head bleeding. Residents alleged he was an Aristide
activist and a drug trafficker.

``We're going to clean the city of all 'chimere,''' said rebel Dieusauver Magustin, 26, using the Creole word ``ghost'' to describe pro-government militants.

It was not clear what would happen to those who were detained. One rebel said they were saving them from lynching. Another, Claudy Philippe, said: ``The people
show us the (chimere) houses. If they are there, we execute them.''

Police in Cap-Haitien remained barricaded in their posts, saying they lacked the means and the manpower to fight off the insurgents. Some hardcore Aristide militants
roamed the streets and terrorized the president's opponents until the rebels moved in.

Thousands demonstrated in favor of the rebellion, chanting ``Aristide get out!'' and ``Goodbye Aristide.''

Looters stole 800 tons of food at the U.N. World Food Program warehouse, according to the agency's Andrea Bagnoli, and people torched the home of pro-Aristide
Mayor Wilmar Innocent.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe predicted a quick victory.

``I think that in less than 15 days we will control all of Haiti,'' he said at a Cap-Haitien hotel as he drank a bottle of beer. Philippe said nothing could be done to stop the
looting and blamed Aristide's government for leaving most of Haiti's 8 million people hungry and desperate.

The rebels also cut cellular telephone service in the city, saying they wanted no communication with Port-au-Prince. Sources close to the government said several
Cabinet ministers in Port-au-Prince were asking friends for places to hide should the capital be attacked by anti-government protesters.

On Monday, France urged its citizens to leave Haiti. The United States did the same Thursday.

There are about 30,000 foreigners in Haiti, including about 20,000 Americans, 2,000 French and 1,000 Canadians.

The political opposition has said it will respond by 5 p.m. Monday to a U.S.-backed peace plan that calls for Aristide to remain president while sharing some power with
rivals until new elections are organized.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, was trying to avert a collapse of medical care in Haiti, a senior official said Monday.

``The situation is unraveling very quickly, probably more quickly than anybody would have thought,'' said Yves Giovannoni, head of operations for Latin America and the
Caribbean at the International Committee of the Red Cross, speaking in Geneva. ICRC staff are reporting 30-50 people a day injured by the fighting.

The two-pronged rebel assault quickly engulfed key points in Cap-Haitien. The police station was burned, then looted, as was a pro-Aristide radio station. Thousands of
people rushed to the port and carted off goods.

``We're all hungry,'' said Jean Luc, 11, who strapped four huge sacks of rice to his bicycle and was trying to pedal it home.

Residents also defaced posters of Aristide, who was wildly popular when he became Haiti's first freely elected leader in 1990 but lost support after flawed legislative
elections in 2000 led international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid. Opponents accuse him of failing to help those in need in the Western hemisphere's poorest
country, allowing corruption and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs. Aristide denies the charges.

The rebels say they have no political agenda beyond ousting Aristide, but the man who started the rebellion, Gonaives gang leader Buteur Metayer, on Thursday
declared himself the president of liberated Haiti.

Rebels have driven government forces from half the country. As Cap-Haitien stood on the brink of falling, police were barricaded in their posts, saying they lacked the
personnel and firepower to fend off the insurgents.

Many people expressed joy at the rebel victory.

``The people are happy. Finally we're free from terror,'' said Fifi Jean, 30, as she stood in front of the blazing police headquarters, which was burned after the police fled
amid the rebel assault. As night fell, fires broke out in the homes of some Aristide supporters in Cap-Haitien.

Philippe said he wanted to see Aristide thrown in jail and put on trial, although he did not know what charges the president would face, saying it would be up to Haitian

The rebel leader was an officer in the army when it ousted Aristide in 1991 and instigated a reign of terror that ended in 1994 when the United States sent 20,000 troops
to end the military dictatorship and restore the president to power.

In taking Cap-Haitien, rebels said their force only met resistance at the airport, where Philippe said eight civilians loyal to Aristide were killed in a gunbattle. Seven other
bodies were seen Sunday in Cap-Haitien.

Aristide supporters commandeered a plane from the airport, and witnesses said those who fled on it included seven police officers and former Aristide lawmaker
Nawoum Marcellus, whose Radio Africa had been inciting violence against opponents.

``We came in today and we took Cap-Haitien; tomorrow we take Port-au-Prince,'' boasted Lucien Estime, a 19-year-old who joined the rebellion from the hamlet of
Saint Raphael, south of Cap-Haitien. ``Our mission is to liberate Haiti.'' The United States blames Aristide for the crisis and has said it does not want to send troops to
restore order.

The opposition coalition Democratic Platform insists any plan must include Aristide's resignation.

Aristide accepted the plan, but indicated he would not negotiate with the soldiers who had ousted him in 1991.

Associated Press reporters Mark Stevenson and Michael Norton contributed to this report from Port-au-Prince.

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