South Florida Sun-Sentinel
February 19, 2004

Police desert posts in Cap-Haïtien

By Mark Stevenson
The Associated Press

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti · Frightened police barricaded themselves inside their station Wednesday and said they could not repel a threatened rebel attack on Haiti's second-largest city, the last major government bastion in the north. Officers in other towns deserted their posts with no guerrillas in sight.

Even as police made clear they were too scared to patrol the streets of Cap-Haïtien, militant defenders of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vowed to take a stand against the 2-week-old rebellion, which has killed scores of people and has attracted leaders with murderous backgrounds.

"We have machetes and guns, and we will resist," said carpenter Pierre Frandley. "The police might have been scared, but the people got together and organized. ... We blocked the streets."

There were fears rebels already have infiltrated the northern port and more were headed that way.

U.S. officials worry the current crisis would only worsen if Aristide is forced to flee. One option being internally discussed is a transfer of power, with Aristide's
consent, to a temporary governing board made up of Haitians who would run the country until a new president was elected. It is not clear how much support that
proposal has at top levels of the Bush administration.

Aristide rebuffed Bush administration suggestions that he convene early presidential elections as a way to defuse the crisis, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

Although the administration has said it is opposed to any Haitian opposition attempt to drive Aristide from office, Bush officials are privately discussing ideas for a
possible constitutional succession before Aristide's term expires in February 2006.

Haitian government spokesman Mario Dupuy called both options "unacceptable."

"They are tantamount to admitting the legitimacy of a coup d'état against the government," he said.

As Haiti's beleaguered government pleaded in vain for international help, former soldiers ousted in a 1994 U.S. military intervention crossed from the Dominican
Republic to join the rebellion.

"The army is no longer demobilized. The army is mobilized," said Jean-Baptiste Joseph, a former army sergeant who headed a group of demobilized soldiers before being
jailed in the 1990s for plotting insurrection.

He spoke in Hinche, a town of 50,000 at a strategic crossroads in Haiti's agriculture-rich Artibonite district, which was seized Monday by about 50 rebels led by a
former death squad leader.

Amnesty International warned "the specter of past violations continues to haunt Haiti" and that the newly emerged rebel leaders have "a horrific track record when it
comes to human rights."

Their arrival means "fears of a mass population outflow from Haiti are bound to increase," the human rights organization warned, recalling the tens of thousands of
Haitian boat people who fled to U.S. shores to escape the 1991-1994 military dictatorship.

One sign that a refugee crisis may be imminent would be a large-scale construction of boats. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there are no signs of
such activity, but the administration wants to "make sure that we're prepared should something happen."

The rebels have chased police from more than a dozen towns and cut supply lines to northern Haiti from Port-au-Prince, the capital to the south, and from the western
Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Dominican soldiers said Wednesday they arrested four fleeing Haitian police along the sparsely
guarded border.

In Washington, Florida's two Democratic senators said Wednesday that the Bush administration is resisting their appeals to take stronger action to avert an exodus of
refugees, who they fear could end up on Florida's shores.

Bob Graham and Bill Nelson say they have warned administration officials in recent days of the potential for a flood of refugees, as has happened during past conflicts
in Haiti.

"I would characterize the position the administration is taking as being one of indifference and a strong desire of not wanting to get involved," Graham said. Both
senators said the administration should not shy away from a show of force.

Nelson said he favored sending in an armed force to protect civilians and to force a political settlement. "If you act now, you cut off all those problems at the source," he

The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday threw its weight behind Caribbean and Latin American efforts to find a peaceful political solution. The statement came at the
behest of Chile, whose U.N. delegate, Heraldo Muñoz, said there was no discussion about sending U.N. peacekeepers.

The Security Council called on Aristide's government and the opposition "to restore confidence and dialogue and overcome their differences peacefully and
democratically through constitutional means."

Only France, Haiti's former colonizer, has said it is considering whether there is support for an intervention force.

Illustrating the problems Aristide faces, businessman Bruno Firmin said that people in Cap-Haïtien think rebels already have infiltrated some neighborhoods and that
many would welcome them, even though their leaders are former military and police officers with infamously bad human rights records.

"I'm not afraid of the rebels. I'm afraid of the Aristide supporters," Firmin said of gangs of toughs who have burned homes and attacked opposition supporters in

At Cap-Haïtien's police station, one officer admitted they too were scared.

"Of course we are," he said. "It's a natural reaction after what happened in Gonaïves and in other parts of the country."

Information from The New York Times was used to supplement this report.

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