The Washington Post
Thursday, February 19, 2004; Page A15

Police in Haiti's Second City Retreat Into Station

Associated Press
CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti, Feb. 18 -- Haitian policemen barricaded themselves inside their station here Wednesday and said they would be unable to repel a threatened rebel assault on Haiti's second-largest city, the government's last major bastion in the north. Officers in other towns deserted their posts, although there was no sign of an attack.

While police said they were unwilling to patrol the streets of Cap-Haitien, militant defenders of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide vowed to take a stand against the two-week-old rebellion, in which about 60 people have been killed.

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

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

U.S. officials said they were concerned the current crisis would worsen if Aristide were forced to flee. Aristide rebuffed Bush administration suggestions that he convene early presidential elections as a way to defuse the crisis, a senior U.S. official said.

As Haiti's beleaguered government pleaded 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 had 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.

The human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement that "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."

"Fears of a mass population outflow from Haiti are bound to increase," the organization warned, recalling the tens of thousands of boat people who fled to U.S. shores to escape the 1991-94 military dictatorship.

Rebels have chased police officers 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 that they had arrested four fleeing Haitian police officers along the sparsely guarded border.

Food and fuel prices have soared behind rebel lines; electricity and telephone service, always erratic, has been cut totally in many towns.

At the United Nations, the Security Council supported Caribbean and Latin American efforts to find a peaceful political solution. Its statement followed a request from the government of Chile, whose ambassador, 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."

© 2004