U.S. missionaries caught in Haiti's crossfire
BY TRENTON DANIEL
HINCHE, Haiti - David Lockhart and his team of 39 Georgia doctors, dentists and missionaries came to treat the ill. They ran into Haiti's bloody revolt.
Gunmen fighting to topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide torched
and looted the local police station in a lightning attack Monday, killed
a district police chief and his
bodyguard and released prisoners from the local lockup.
More than two dozen gunmen, many of them former Haitian army soldiers, warily patrolled the dusty streets of Hinche on Tuesday. Armed mostly with World War II rifles and a few automatic weapons, the gunmen were dressed in assorted camouflaged uniforms, body armor and riot gear.
''We came here Friday the 13th on a medical mission. Yesterday we saw the police station burning,'' said Lockhart, head of the group from the St. Monica Catholic Church in Duluth, Ga. The group has arranged annual trips to a clinic in Hinche, some 70 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince, for the past five years.
Lockhart's staff of 39, among them four doctors, a pediatrician, a trauma doctor, a radiologist and two dentists, was scheduled to leave this Friday. During their weeklong stays, they treat some 300 to 400 people a day, many of them getting medical treatment for the first time, Lockhart said.
''We decided that just to be on the safe side, we're going to leave tomorrow,'' he told a Herald reporter.
Although Lockhart said the anti-government gunmen didnt threaten
the Americans, the takeover of Hinche appeared to have followed the bloody
pattern of the nearly
two-week-old revolt against Aristide, in which some 60 people have died.
Gunshots continued to ring out Monday night and into the morning, said Lockhart, but no wounded were brought to the clinic. Only one woman was treated at the clinic, beaten on the face because her husband was an Aristide supporter, Lockhart added.
Anti-Aristide gunmen rose up in the port of Gonaives on Feb.
5, raiding a dozen towns to push their fight to topple a president they
call authoritarian and corrupt. The
government calls the gunmen mere criminals and terrorists who are trying to take advantage of the crisis that has all but paralyzed Haiti's political life since disputed
legislative elections in 2000.
The gunmen now hold only two towns, Gonaives and Hinche, although they have vowed that they soon will be sending out more raiders for attacks similar to the one against Hinche.
On Tuesday, the gunmen maintained a show of force in the town, patrolling its streets as dozens of villagers stood and watched warily from the crumbling sidewalks.
The gunmen kept an especially tight guard as one of their leaders, Louis Jodel Chamblain, a notoriously brutal supporter of the 1991-1994 military dictatorship, paced the street as he waited for a flat tire to be fixed on his white Nissan four-wheel-drive vehicle. Cradling an automatic weapon and wearing a bulletproof vest, Chamblain seemed impatient.
Chamblain declined to speak to reporters, but a man who identified himself as Jean Baptiste Joseph, a former army sergeant, said he and the other former soldiers were seeking revenge against Aristide for dissolving the military shortly after 20,000 U.S. troops restored the ousted leader to power in 1994.
Joseph and some of the other former army members who have joined
the revolt claim the government owes them back pay, and that Aristide's
armed supporters have
targeted them as hated remnants of the military dictatorship.
Aristide has been ''killing all the Haitian army people,'' Joseph said.
At least in the presence of the gunmen, several residents of Hinche echoed the criticism of the president.
''Aristide is not the people's friend, he is a criminal,'' said Marther Wilner, 30, a mechanic and cab driver. ``I'm with anybody whos against Aristide.''
Although Hinche was under the complete control of the anti-Aristide gunmen, their reach did not appear to spread south to the nearby town of Mirebalais, although the police station there was vacant.
One man who was spotted leaving Hinche was Sherman Allen, a Canadian who was working as a technical advisor to the police department with the Organization of American States.
He said his job ended when the attackers entered the town and most of the police there, about a dozen, residents said, simply fled.
The attackers, Allen said, ``were small [in numbers] but were better armed than the police.''