The Miami Herald
Sun, Feb. 29, 2004
Appeals for calm bring respite

Mayhem in Haiti's capital ends as the president tells backers to stop attacks. Meanwhile, France urges his exit.


PORT-AU-PRINCE -- The street corner executions and other turmoil that raged through the capital came to an abrupt halt Saturday, apparently on the order of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Saying that Aristide rules the militant supporters who have inflicted death and pain on the capital, French officials for the first time called without equivocation for his resignation.

They said Panama was willing to grant him asylum. Panamanian officials said they would consider such a request. By Saturday, Aristide still controlled Port-au-Prince -- a capital in the cross hairs of rebel forces -- but he controlled little else in Haiti.

''The time has come, Aristide must go. He must resign,'' a senior official at the French Foreign Ministry told The Herald.

Nevertheless, Aristide firmly rejected such demands.

''Out of the question,'' he said.

In another development, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated another 336 Haitian migrants Saturday, bringing to 867 the number returned in just two days. In all of January, before the rebellion began, 148 Haitian migrants were intercepted by the Coast Guard.

''Welcome back to Haiti!'' someone said sarcastically as the returned Haitians, carrying bags and blankets, struggled through a hostile crowd of Aristide supporters.

The U.S. Embassy, reminding Aristide of his ''honor, legacy and reputation,'' demanded late Friday that he order followers to cease ''this blind violence.'' The chaos killed at least 12 people Friday and sparked unbridled looting and thuggery.

A few hours later, Aristide told loyalists to end ''acts of looting and violence.'' And they promptly did.


But he also ordered followers to be alert for rebel attacks and to man roadblocks at night, an order that some observers said could be interpreted by militants as an endorsement of reprisal killings under the guise of defensive actions.

''Our duty as a people is to be on guard so they do not catch us by surprise,'' Aristide said. ``We can put up barricades at night to ensure they don't attack us.''

The French official said Paris held Aristide responsible for the latest wave of violence in Port-au-Prince.

''The violence continues because of him and his thugs,'' the official said.

Once again Saturday, hundreds of people reportedly plundered shipping containers. This time, poverty-stricken residents of the capital broke into U.S. aid shipments, carrying away food, hospital bed sheets and other items.

Elsewhere in the city, a large measure of calm returned, though masked Aristide militants still manned some barricades. Tap taps -- the colorful pickups that serve as the primary form of transportation -- reappeared, as did some police officers.

At one point, hundreds of Aristide supporters took to the streets in a loud but peaceful demonstration that briefly surrounded the U.S. Embassy.

''Weve got to make him stay!'' supporters shouted to the beat of drums and the sound of horns. ``Aristide, yes. Terrorists, no, they chanted as U.S. Marines watched from the embassy's roof.


But most observers expected the peace to be temporary.

''The situation is so grave that everybody can die,'' said Mertyl Jacsonn, 28, whose friend was shot Friday night.

Rebels have ejected the government from most of northern and central Haiti and are within 25 miles of the capital. They have threatened to attack Port-au-Prince within days or lay siege to it.

''The only thing that is left is Port-au-Prince,'' Butteur Métayer, a rebel leader, told The Herald in Gonaives. He often walks through the city holding a machete above his head. ``I'm the president of Gonaives now.''

Métayer, whose seizure of Gonaives on Feb. 5 launched the armed insurgency, appeared to be concentrating his efforts on coordinating the push south to the capital.


More than 80 people have died in the rebellion, and U.S. officials and others have warned of a bloodbath if the fighting reaches Port-au-Prince.

The U.S. Embassy told the 20,000 Americans still in Haiti that safe passage overseas or across the border to the Dominican Republic could not be assured and they should seek ''safe haven'' within the country.

Virtually all commercial flights to Haiti have been canceled. U.S. Marines in Camp LeJeune were geared up and on 48-hours notice to deploy, relatives said.

The U.S. Coast Guard reported that the newly repatriated 336 Haitians had been intercepted aboard two boats. Rising numbers of Haitian migrants have been seized recently. Some 531 were repatriated Friday.

One of the migrants who returned Saturday said 104 people left the southern town of Petit-Goave on Wednesday. A Coast Guard cutter picked them up near Mole Saint-Nicolas, on the northwestern tip of Haiti, the migrant said.

The refugees offered various rationales for their desperate flight, saying they left because of economic deprivation and political strife.

''I dont know if it was Lavalas or other people, but they were beating people and shooting,'' said Franzie Batichon, 18, referring to violence allegedly orchestrated by members of Aristides ruling party. Batichon said his father paid about $100 for the trip.


In addition to Saturday's call by the French for Aristide's resignation, Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials have signaled that they no longer support him.

The French officials said representatives of Aristide's government were told in Paris that any agreements with France -- including one that called for creation of an international police force if Aristide agreed to share power with opponents -- were rendered ''void'' by the anarchy that swept the capital Friday.

Now, any international force must wait for Aristide to step down, the French said, because earlier action would help preserve a presidency that is no longer legitimate.

The official said that Panama has agreed to grant asylum to Aristide and that he has ``millions [of dollars] to live on.''

Panamanian Deputy Foreign Minister Nivia Castrellón said that Panama would consider any such request.

''When you're asked for something, you evaluate it before giving an answer,'' she told The Associated Press.

Herald staff writers Susannah A. Nesmith in Gonaives, Charles Rabin in Miami and Stewart Stogel at the United Nations contributed to this report.