South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 1, 2004

Thousands cheer Aristide ouster as rebels roll into capital

Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Thousands of people cheering the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide greeted a rebel convoy in the capital Monday with shouts of "Liberty!'' as U.S. Marines and French troops secured key sites in the capital.

Dozens of insurgents packing an eclectic array of weapons dating to World War II swaggered around a posh hotel, where rebel leader Guy Philippe met with members of the political coalition that opposed Aristide. He was joined by rebel commander Louis-Jodel Chamblain, who is a former army death squad leader and a convicted assassin.

With U.S. military forces on the ground and more on the way, U.S. critics questioned whether Aristide resigned of his own accord Sunday.

After being flown aboard a contracted U.S.-government plane to the impoverished Central African Republic, Aristide on Monday reportedly called members of the U.S. Congress and an African-American activist, Randall Robinson, and told them he had been kidnapped by U.S. troops.

U.S. officials called the allegation "nonsense'' and "absurd.'' And Charles Wenezoui, minister of foreign affairs for the Central African Republic, denied that Aristide was in any way a prisoner.

Philippe said he planned to make preparations for the new president, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, to assume office, as called for in the constitution.

"We're just going to make sure the palace is clean for the president to come ... that there is no threat there,'' he said as his convoy of 70 rebels approached the capital. However, Haiti's constitution also calls for parliament to approve Alexandre as leader, and lawmakers' terms expired early this year.

In the capital, there were reports of reprisal killings of militant Aristide supporters accused of terrorizing people. An Associated Press reporter saw four bodies at Carrefour, on the outskirts of the capital, three of them with hands tied behind their backs and shot in the head execution-style.

The fourth body was that of a man allegedly shot by police, said witness Charlie LaPlanche. "He ran out of the (police) pickup truck and then it became a manhunt. He went into a house. They found him. And then they took him out and executed him,'' he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said U.S. forces ``will have a lead role'' initially in restoring order to Haiti following the three-week rebellion that swept Aristide from power. The U.N. Security Council late Sunday approved the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 U.S. troops would go to Haiti for a ``relatively short period.'' They would participate in an interim force, which could include as many as 5,000 troops from several countries, that would stay until replaced by a U.N. peacekeeping force.

There were no clashes between the rebel force and the U.S. and French troops, who were establishing security at diplomatic missions and other sites. Philippe earlier said he welcomed the peacekeepers.

Powell said he did not want certain rebel leaders to take any role in a new government. Philippe was an officer in the army when it repressed dissident politicians.

``Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records, and this is something we will have to work through,'' Powell said.

Amnesty International called for international peacekeepers to arrest Chamblain and Jean Pierre Baptiste, also a rebel, who escaped from jail after being convicted in the 1994 massacre of 15 Aristide supporters.

As Aristide spent his first day in exile, his home in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Tabarre was looted and trashed.

Pictures, documents and a grand piano were dragged out onto the courtyard of the three-story villa, then abandoned.

Family and school pictures lay among the disorder. Broken plates littered the area by the pool. Books strewn about included several written by Aristide and one about Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist leader from Jamaica.

Whatever the circumstances, Aristide's departure clearly rattled President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has had a rocky relationship with the U.S. government.

In a Caracas speech punctuated by expletives, Chavez insulted President Bush and railed against alleged U.S. intervention in Venezuelan politics. Chavez has accused the United States of involvement in a 2002 failed coup against him and said it is funding groups seeking a presidential recall vote.

In the Haitian capital, thousands converged on the plaza outside the National Palace, shouting ``Liberty!'' and ``Aristide is gone!'' when the rebel convoy arrived from the western town of Gonaives, where the rebellion erupted on Feb. 5.

Not everyone was happy to see the rebels in the capital. Some residents watched indifferently, their arms folded, as their convoy passed. At one point, the convoy stopped and rebels jumped out, sweeping their weapons from side to side, then moved on.

Philippe, the rebel leader, went into police headquarters at the plaza, and his men did not approach a half-dozen armed U.S. Marines on the grounds of the palace.

Among those at the hotel meeting with the rebel leader was Evans Paul, a former mayor of Port-au-Prince and a top opposition figure. Paul said Philippe ``has played an important role.''

Industrialist Charles Henry Baker, an opposition leader, said Philippe offered his troops to help maintain order amid reports of continued looting in the capital. Baker said his group welcomed the offer.

One young rebel told a reporter he shot people.

``I shot some looters yesterday. They have to be shot,'' the rebel who goes by the nom-de-guerre ``Faustin,'' said as he stood outside the meeting in a black flak vest, cradling an M-4 assault rifle.

Col. David Berger, head of the U.S. Marine contingent, said 150 Marines had arrived overnight from 8th Battalion, based in Camp Lejeune, N.C., to ``secure key sites in the capital.''

``People who interfere with that mission, we will handle with appropriate force,'' Berger told AP.

At the airport, U.S. and French military commanders huddled over a map of Port-au-Prince as a French military attache pointed out locations where armed pro-Aristide militants have been known to gather.

U.S. Marines set up a security perimeter at the airport, kneeling in the grass as about 80 French Marines arrived in C-160 transport planes. The French Marines' supplies included crates of bottled Evian water.

An AP reporter traveled with the rebels, including Philippe, when their convoy set out before dawn from Gonaives. In St. Marc, a town which had been contested during the uprising, the convoy passed three charred bodies on the road.

Haiti's crisis has been brewing since Aristide's party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000, prompting international donors to freeze millions of dollars in aid.

Opponents also accused Aristide of breaking promises to help the poor, allowing corruption fueled by drug trafficking and masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs _ charges the president denied.

AP reporters Michael Norton in Kingston, Jamaica, Mark Stevenson in Port-au-Prince, and Joseph Benamsse in Bangui, Central African Republic, also contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2004