The Miami Herald
Tue, Feb. 17, 2004

Rebels overrun town in Haiti, kill police commissioner

Anti-Aristide rebels move into Hinche and kill its police commissioner. President Aristide refuses to use massive force to quell the uprising.


PORT-AU-PRICE -- Renewing their effort to topple Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, gunmen overran another town Monday and killed a police commissioner just hours before the president repeated that he would not use massive force to crush the revolt.

Government spokesman Mario Dupuy said some 40 gunmen attacked Hinche, a farming town 70 miles north of the capital, and killed Commissioner Maxime Jonas and two other police officers. Radio reports said the rebels also released all the local jail's prisoners.

At least two Aristide opponents were also shot to death Sunday by a pro-government group in the port of St. Marc, a two-hour drive north of the capital, according to other radio reports. One station put the death toll at seven.

The Hinche attack ended a brief three-day standoff in which the gunmen who revolted against Aristide on Feb. 5 appeared to have largely retreated to their main redoubt, the port of Gonaives north of St. Marc.

''It's the same terrorists and drug traffickers that are terrorizing the population,'' Dupuy told The Herald, identifying the leaders of the Hinche attack as three notorious supporters of the military dictatorship that toppled Aristide in 1991. He was returned to power by U.S. troops in 1994.

Dupuy claimed that Guy Philippe and Jean ''Jean Tatoune'' Pierre Baptiste were involved in the attack but that the mastermind was Louis Jodel Chamblain, a leader of a brutal pro-military group known as the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti, or FRAPH.


Aristide, addressing a joint news conference with the International Committee of the Red Cross, insisted as he did last week that he would not order all-out police attacks on the armed opponents. Nearly 60 people have now died in the violence.

''We will not ask the police to use force,'' he said, refusing to say what he would do to neutralize the gunmen. ``I don't want to talk about all the strategies that will be used by the police.''

He said police had already sent reinforcements to the northern city of Cap-Haitien, the country's second-largest, to protect it from attacks but declined to say when or how many of Haiti's mere 4,000 policemen were sent there.

Aristide also appealed to all Haitians to respect the Red Cross and allow it to deliver desperately needed relief supplies past road barricades thrown up by the gunmen.

One Red Cross convoy on Monday was allowed into Gonaives carrying 1.6 tons of supplies, including blood and surgical equipment and a team of doctors to treat some of the wounded from the revolt.


The neighboring Dominican Republic, meanwhile, shut off its northern Dajabón border crossing with Haiti and suspended the local open-air market after the weekend killing of two of its soldiers nearby by unknown attackers.

Dominican Foreign Secretary Frank Guerrero Prats told The Associated Press that other countries should step in to halt the violence in Haiti before it impacts the region.

''It's time for the international community, multilateral organizations and friendly governments to act with urgency to combat a worsening crisis that could be detrimental for the entire region,'' Guerrero said in a statement.

The two countries share the island of Hispaniola, separated by a 225-mile border that is desolate and not patrolled in many areas.

Although the Dominican government said it was still investigating the killings, Aristide blamed them on the anti-government gunmen. ''Peace in Haiti means peace in the Dominican Republic,'' he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Haiti said there's been no noticeable increase in the number of illegal Haitian ''boat people'' trying to leave. The Coast Guard is maintaining a steady presence in the region and has not increased its patrols, said spokeswoman Judith Trunzo.



© 2004