Sunday, February 29, 2004

Rebel uses Internet to check world pulse

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti (AP) --The rebel leader hunches over the computer in the hotel
lobby, a fan whirring cool air over him as he plugs into the Internet to check the world's
response to his threat of attacking Haiti's capital and chats online, doing interviews with

It's a daily ritual for Guy Philippe, who is paying close attention to perceptions
of his rebel force at home and abroad as he plots a final drive to oust President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On Saturday he announced rebel troops would hold off attacking
Port-au-Prince for one or two days in response to a U.S. appeal for the
insurgents to halt their advance.

Philippe said he was not contacted by the United States, but read about the
plea on the Internet.

"We don't want to have any problem with the international community," he said.
"They have a good strategy to help Haitian people" -- namely a demand for
Aristide to resign.

The rebels cut telephone communications, including cellular service, when they
seized Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, with little resistance a week
ago, saying they want no communications with government-held

So the hotel's Internet connection is made through a high-tech satellite phone.

Philippe's other mode of communications is low-tech: he said he sends
messages to fighters scattered across northern Haiti by motorcycle couriers,
fearing telephone messages could be intercepted.

Dozens of rebels clad in camouflage and toting rifles pass the time waiting for
orders in the Hotel Mont Joli, many sipping Haiti's Barbancourt rum or,
Philippe's preference, Prestige beer. Some wear black T-shirts printed with
"Haiti Libere" -- "Free Haiti."

Truckloads of rebels come and go on patrols. Some residents freeze to peer at

Many others say they feel "the army" has made the city safe. Some rebels are
ex-soldiers who say they hope to re-establish the army that Aristide dissolved
after U.S. troops restored him to power in 1994, three years after the soldiers
ousted him in a coup.

Rebels now stand guard at Cap-Haitien's port to prevent more looting like the
chaos that erupted when they seized control. At least 18 were killed in the
assault and ensuing violence, the Haitian Red Cross said. Many were said to be
Aristide militants.

On patrol nearly a week later the rebels still were searching for Aristide
supporters accused of terrorizing people in the days before the rebels arrived.

"I have the support of the people. That is all we need," Philippe said, talking
with reporters on the hotel verandah overlooking a swimming pool, palms and
the sea.

Off-duty rebel fighters sit in clusters chatting in the lounge, while some listen to
portable radios.

Billy Augustine, a 23-year-old rebel, wears a bandanna printed with the U.S.
flag around his neck. "I think the U.S. has enough proof to know that Aristide
cannot run the country any longer," Augustine said, an assault rifle on his lap.
"We've been wishing they could do more."

Hotel managers say Philippe has paid the tab for the dozens of rebels, though
they won't give the amount.

Philippe, who celebrated his 36th birthday Sunday, has said the movement is
funded by Haitians in the United States and Canada, who wire money through
Western Union, and businessmen in Haiti.

Many of the city's authorities have recognized the rebels as the new power in
town. Police chief Gabriel Hugues came to meet rebels Friday with about a
dozen other officers in civilian clothes, some of whom turned over their guns.

"I don't have any problem with those people," Hugues said of the rebels who
burned the city's police station. "They came to defend Haiti."

A former assistant police chief for the northern region, Philippe fled Haiti in
2000 amid accusations of plotting a coup and lived in exile in the Dominican
Republic and Ecuador.

Often smiling, he plays dominoes with his troops and laughs with musicians
whose troubadour ballads resonate through the hotel some nights.

Other times he is strictly business, glued to the computer screen at the

Philippe doesn't talk about who he is contacting by e-mail or instant message,
but he says he is taking orders from no one. "I don't have a boss," he says.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.