The Washington Post
Friday, March 5, 2004; Page A15

Marines Spread Out In Haitian Capital

Violence Abates as Force Extends Reach

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 4 -- U.S. Marines patrolled the streets here Thursday in armored convoys and on foot in a show of force that brought order to much of the capital after days of looting and violence.

The patrols ventured for the first time into several neighborhoods loyal to Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who resigned Sunday as Haiti's president in the face of a rising armed rebellion and international pressure. The Marines cleared away barricades used by groups of armed Aristide supporters to protect themselves and were insulted by mobs chanting for the deposed president's return. Some of the military patrols consisted of U.S. and French troops, working alongside Haitian police.

"That's a big step forward in where I think we have to go," Col. Mark Gurganus, who commands the international force that includes about 1,000 U.S. Marines, said of the patrols at an afternoon news conference. "We will continue those, we will expand those, and that will become common sight."

While the looting and violence that followed Aristide's resignation lessened, the capital and much of the country remains a patchwork of towns and neighborhoods that are loyal or bitterly opposed to the former president. Militants on both sides are armed, and the multinational military force has yet to extend its reach much beyond the capital of 1.3 million people.

There were reports of killings Thursday in the southern city of Petit-Goave and in the capital's western suburbs. Although no official count has been made, police and hospital officials estimate the death toll from the weeks-long strife at more than 120 people.

Leslie Voltaire, a former Aristide minister now serving on the three-member commission to select an interim government, warned that pledges by rebel leaders to lay down their arms were being ignored by the most dangerous faction. He said Louis Jodel Chamblain, a rebel commander who has been convicted for his role as a paramilitary leader in political killings, said he would not disarm his men.

Chamblain was a leader of the Revolutionary Front for Haitian Advancement and Progress, a paramilitary force created by the military junta that ousted Aristide from power in 1991, seven months after he became the first democratically elected leader in Haiti's history. U.S. troops returned Aristide to office in 1994, and he was reelected in 2000 to a five-year term. Officials in the Central African Republic, where Aristide arrived after his pre-dawn flight from Haiti, said Thursday he could remain there to live.

A number of paramilitary leaders, as well as former military officers, led the rebel army that controlled more than half the country by the time Aristide resigned. At a meeting Wednesday, U.S. military officers ordered the rebels to lay down their arms after several near-clashes with U.S. forces.

"As I work on this commission, I will demand far better security," Voltaire said in a telephone interview. "We cannot have any security as long as these people are running around."

But members of the civilian movement that opposed Aristide said armed gangs loyal to the former president continue to kill opposition members, including an activist in the pro-Aristide neighborhood of Belair. Marines confronted an angry crowd in the neighborhood hours later, clearing out barricades that had prevented police from entering it in recent days.

"There is a lot of confusion right now, but with the U.S. and U.N. help we will have a new government," said Bruneau Edgarz, an adviser to opposition leader Evans Paul. "This is still a security problem. The Aristide militants are still in the streets, and they are still killing people. The troops must act fast to prevent this from getting worse."

Foreign troops continued to arrive Thursday -- 800 from France and several hundred from Chile -- as the multinational force builds toward a planned strength of 5,000. The soldiers are scheduled to be in Haiti for three months.

Gurganus said that the multinational force would not intercede to stop looting, only to protect lives. He said the Haitian National Police, numbering about 3,000 officers in a country of 8 million people, would be responsible for maintaining order. The new police chief, Leon Charles, pleaded for more foreign assistance to help train and equip his officers.

"They've been devastated, and they've been demoralized," Gurganus said. "But I'll tell you what. There's no braver faces in Haiti than those of the new police chief and all of the officers I have spoken with."

© 2004