March 29, 2004

Former prime minister wants U.S. protection

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (Reuters) -- Former Haitian Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, in hiding after a bloody revolt toppled his government last month, said rebels are threatening to murder him and he wants U.S. protection.

Neptune, who was appointed by ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is moving from one friend's house to the next in secrecy. His home was burned down during last month's uprising in the poorest country in the Americas.

"U.S. officials and everybody else know the rebels have said they will come and arrest me, and they know the rebels don't really mean arrest," Neptune told Reuters by cellular telephone from his hide-out in a weekend interview.

"I have been left without security, so I have to take personal measures to protect myself," he said, referring to his decision to go into hiding. "I'm not afraid to die, but I don't want to die under these circumstances."

While Aristide was whisked away into exile by U.S. security officials on February 29, Neptune is among dozens of his Lavalas Family Party supporters on a blacklist issued by the new government banning them from leaving the country.

The government says the list is a precautionary measure to prevent those named from fleeing while the government investigates accusations of graft and mismanagement.

"I am very concerned about my name being on the list, because I don't think they want to know the truth. They are persecuting us," Neptune said.

Several of Aristide's associates and an aide have been arrested by police on vague charges of "ill-doing," often without warrants.

Neptune said he cannot trust the local police force -- which is in disarray -- to protect him, because many rebels and former Haitian soldiers who led the uprising that overthrew Aristide's government are working closely with the police.

"When we see the police mix with the former military and rebels, who had been asking for my arrest, there is no way I could trust them," he said.

Neptune said his safety was the responsibility of U.S. Marines leading a 3,500-strong U.N.-sanctioned multinational force that is keeping an uneasy peace.

After Aristide left the country, Neptune holed up in his elegant Port-au-Prince ministerial offices for two weeks because he had nowhere else to go. He went into hiding the day his successor, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, arrived in Haiti to take office on March 10.

"They (the new government) are only pursuing our (Lavalas) people, and not the rebels who committed crimes," he said.

Neptune said he refused to leave Haiti like Aristide immediately after the uprising because he had had enough of exile after spending decades in the United States during the brutal Duvalier family dictatorship.

He said he wants to take a break from politics, revert to his trade as an architect and continue a literacy drive that former slum priest Aristide started in 2001 -- but Haiti's 200-year track record of political murders and thuggery is against him.

Copyright 2004 Reuters.