The Miami Herald
Wed, Mar. 03, 2004

Haitian rebels to pull back after meeting with U.S. officials


PORT-AU-PRINCE - Rebels prepared to abandon Haiti's capital Wednesday following a private meeting with U.S. officials here and a show of force by Marines who began rumbling through the city in Humvees to patrol the streets.

U.S. forces also provided security at the airport for the first shipments of humanitarian aid to arrive since a bloody revolt that began four weeks ago paralyzed deliveries. And newly named President Boniface Alexandre was expected assume control at the National Palace.

Supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resigned Saturday and fled into exile Sunday, meanwhile also fled in an apparent move to escape reprisals.

Witnesses said at least five busloads of prominent Haitians affiliated with Aristide's Lavalas Family party took off in a charter plane Tuesday afternoon. They were escorted to the airport by armed security dressed in black.

The rebels' impending departure from the downtown sector of Port-au-Prince was an abrupt change of attitude for rebel leader Guy Philippe who a day earlier had declared himself the country's ``military chief.''

It also revealed just how strong a role the United States is playing in restoring order here, even though less than 1,000 Marines have arrived to secure key installations.

''We can't fight here,'' Philippe told the Herald soon after he reportedly met with U.S. Ambassador James Foley. ``The U.S. asked us to lay down our weapons.''

Philippe would not say if he would leave the country or simply get out of the capital. Embassy officials declined to discuss the meeting with Philippe.

Elsewhere, gunbattles broke out in La Salines, a shanty town that is well-known as an Aristide stronghold. It was not clear if rebels were involved in the shootout.

In Saint Marc, north of the capital, five people were killed, bringing the death toll to more than 100. Looters also ransacked the port in Saint Marc and attacked a radio station, according to local radio reports.