Haitian Leader Appeals For Foreign Security Aid
Aristide Warns Rebellion May Spark Refugee Crisis
By Kevin Sullivan and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Foreign Service
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Feb. 24 -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide called Tuesday on foreign countries to send security forces to quell an armed rebellion against him and warned that the widening crisis could cause thousands of deaths and spark a new exodus of Haitians to Florida by boat.
Despite U.S.-led negotiation efforts, rebels said they would continue their drive to force Aristide from office. And in the capital, business and civic leaders allied against Aristide said they would accept nothing less than his departure.
In Washington, U.S. officials said there was no plan to intervene militarily to stop the rebels, who have threatened to march on the capital, Port-au-Prince, from their northern stronghold. Bush administration officials said they would continue to push for a peaceful settlement.
"I expect the world to pay attention to the Haitian people," Aristide told reporters at the National Palace, which was guarded by police manning .50-caliber machine guns behind stacks of sandbags.
Opposition leader Charles Baker said Tuesday that the civilian coalition had not changed its demand that Aristide leave office, despite a request Monday by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell that the coalition reconsider a U.S.-backed power-sharing agreement. "We've had three years to think this over and we're not going to change our position overnight -- Mr. Aristide must leave," Baker said.
The rebels continued their drive, sacking and burning police stations in Port-de-Paix in the northwest part of the country and its suburb of St.-Louis du Nord. The Rev. Jean-Claude Thervil, a Baptist minister in Port-de-Paix, said in a telephone interview that the rebels had also burned a customs office and ransacked a tax office. He said several rebels commandeered patrol cars and uniforms from police officers who fled, then rode around the city yelling, "Now we are the police!"
The rebels are in control of much of the northern part of the country after easily routing members of the outgunned national police force who abandoned their posts. On Sunday they took Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second-largest city, with barely a fight.
Although there are only a few hundred rebels, many of them are former members of Haiti's military, which ousted Aristide in 1991. He disbanded the military after the United States returned him to power in 1994.
Aristide said at the news conference that more than 5,000 people were killed during and after the 1991 military coup, and held up photographs of some of the dead, attempting to link that event to the current crisis.
"Now they are back, with the same methods," Aristide said. "They prefer to use weapons to kill the dream of democracy, killing the people who vote."
Rebel leader Guy Philippe, a former police chief who recently returned from exile in the Dominican Republic, said his next target was Port-au-Prince, which he said he hoped to control by Sunday, his 36th birthday.
Aristide urged residents of the capital not to be intimidated by the rebels. He said that the police may have only about 4,000 officers, but he predicted that the rebels would also be met by thousands of Haitians in the streets. He called on the rebels to avoid the bloodshed that could follow, saying that if they attack the capital, "you may have thousands of people who will be killed."
Signs of the looming threat were obvious across the capital. Roads into the city were barricaded by concrete blocks, thick palm tree trunks and burned-out hulks of cars and trucks.
On the roof of the U.S. Embassy, some of the 50 Marines who arrived here Monday watched over the passing traffic from behind machine-gun emplacements.
Residents of the capital generally appeared unworried about the gathering political storm. Revelers at the annual Carnival celebrated into Tuesday morning. Business was brisk at the outdoor markets.
Across from the building shared by Muncheez Pizza and Le Video Club, boys wearing Walkmans danced happily on the sidewalk and women sat on the roadside selling oranges and bright melons. Three teenagers sat next to a pile of used tires and a stack of tools, waiting hopefully for someone to get a flat.
"I'm not scared; I trust that God will stop all the violence," said Pepe Janvier, 65, who was selling the woven rugs he said he has made since he was a child.
Although militant forces have threatened to march to Port-au-Prince to overthrow the Aristide government, U.S. officials and foreign diplomats said no plan exists to send peacekeeping forces.
"There is very little stomach in the international community to go into Haiti at this time," said a U.S. official familiar with the issue. If the rebels "make a run, the only thing between them and the capital is the Haitian National Police."
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) called on the Bush administration to send "1,000 or more well-armed police or security forces" to bolster Haiti's weak police force and prevent violence.
Dodd said on the Senate floor that he was "stunned by the lack of any coherent administration strategy for addressing the violence that may unseat the elected government at any moment."
Administration officials said they might proceed with the approach endorsed by Aristide -- and so far rejected by the opposition -- in which foreign advisers would help recruit an independent prime minister and governing body to control Haiti's police. The goal of the effort, they said, would be a credible power-sharing arrangement that calms Haiti and eventually wins the support of the moderate politicians who oppose Aristide.
Powell conferred with Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin of France on Tuesday and supported the French effort to convene a meeting of Haitian government and opposition representatives in Paris later this week.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan is preparing to appoint a special representative as soon as Thursday to increase the world body's role in resolving the dispute, said a U.N. source involved in the issue.
The crisis in Haiti is the latest in a string of violent political coups and convulsions since the country was formed 200 years ago by former French slaves.
That pattern was supposed to change in 1990 when Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest and champion of slum-dwellers, became Haiti's first freely elected leader. But he was overthrown in a coup nine months later and Haiti was torn by violence until a force of 23,000 U.S. troops restored Aristide to power in 1994. He was elected again in 2000 in what was seen as a clean vote, but opponents said fraudulent parliamentary elections earlier that year had affected the outcome.
Aristide said Tuesday that his opponents were the ones subverting freedom. He said their insurrection threatens to create a new wave of boat people. Before the U.S. forces restored Aristide to power, about 20,000 Haitians fled by boat. Some made it to Jamaica and other countries; many were picked up by the U.S. Coast Guard. More than 15,000 refugees were housed at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during the crisis.
Slevin reported from Washington. Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.