Opposition: Rebels need safety pledge
As allies of Haiti's president derail an anti-Aristide march, opponents of the president say armed militants will disarm only when their safety has been assured.
BY MICHAEL A.W. OTTEY
HAITI | ENDING THE REVOLT
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- Opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Thursday that while they deplore violence, the gunmen fighting a week-old revolt against the president should not lay down weapons until their safety is assured.
The comments came at a news conference after pro-Aristide militants who threw rocks and set up barricades with burning tires forced opposition leaders to call off a protest in Port-au-Prince to demand the president's exit.
Gangs of anti-Aristide gunmen who rose up last Thursday in a revolt that has claimed nearly 50 lives still control some eight or nine towns and villages, including Gonaives, astride the main road to northern Haiti.
NO `REGIME CHANGE'
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell flatly denied American media reports that the Bush administration wants Aristide to resign and issued the strongest backing yet for the former priest-turned populist president.
''The policy of the administration is not regime change,'' Powell told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ``Aristide is the elected president of Haiti.''
Although Aristide's political opposition has tried to distance itself from the gunmen, Evans Paul, a leader of the Democratic Convergence, a coalition of political groups opposed to Aristide, told the news conference that their revolt is a legitimate reaction to what they see as the president's misrule.
Asked whether legitimate insurrection involves burning of police stations and killing Aristide supporters, Andy Apaid, a leader of the opposition Group 184, stepped in to answer because ''we are all in agreement in what we're going to say.'' Paul's English is limited.
''What he said is, he's not supporting or condoning the burning of police stations and the violence that accompany it,'' the U.S.-born Apaid said. ``But the people are in their right to request Mr. Aristide's resignation and start denying cooperation with Mr. Aristide.''
NOT IN AN ALLIANCE
He said the political opposition has nothing to do with the anti-Aristide gunmen but recognizes that they would be targeted for attack if they simply laid down their weapons.
''What we say is we need a procedure for them to deposit their guns, because if they deposit their guns under Mr. Aristide's approach now, they will be killed,'' Apaid said.
''We believe the fight should be nonviolent, as we do it. They should put their guns down in a procedure where they are not killed and in which Mr. Aristide also resigns,'' he said.
Asked to clarify whether Aristide has first to resign for the militants to disarm, Apaid said, ``Not necessarily.''
``The violence in Gonaives we condemn, but we recognize that the people are in a very difficult situation. We need good thinking into this, otherwise people will be killed.''
Aristide on Wednesday condemned the violence by both his opponents
and supporters, and he said he would not order the police to fire on gunmen
entrenched in Gonaives and other towns but would proceed slowly toward
a peaceful outcome.