South Florida Sun-Sentinel
March 30, 2004

Rebel commander threatens to kill Haiti's ousted Aristide

Associated Press

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti -- First the rebels handed the station over to police officers. Angry civilians started protesting about police abuses, scaring the officers away. Then the French moved, rifles at the ready, and persuaded frightened officers to return.

Monday's events in Cap-Haitien were the latest example of the instability that prevails in Haiti one month after the hasty departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the arrival of U.S.-led peacekeepers.

``If the police try to get rid of the rebels, we will attack the police,'' threatened Joabilien Saint-Fidor, one of about 100 people shouting ``Down with the police! Long live the army!''

Like Haiti's new U.S.-backed government, he seemed unconcerned that some rebel leaders are ex-soldiers with a history of abusing their powers, including convicted assassin Louis-Jodel Chamblain.

Chamblain continued talks Monday on cooperation between the police and rebels in northern Haiti, and had a hasty conference with French peacekeepers after the protest erupted.

At the same time, flexing the superior muscle of the rebels who outgun and outnumber the demoralized police force, he vowed to kill Aristide if he returns from exile.

The government installed three weeks ago insists all factions in Haiti must lay down their weapons but has made no move to disarm the rebels, calling them ``freedom fighters.''

Equally ambivalent is the U.S.-led force, now grown to some 3,500 peacekeepers including soldiers from France, Chile and Canada.

In Cap-Haitien, as in the capital Port-au-Prince, Aristide supporters remain in hiding.

Ousted officials charge they are being hounded by the new government of Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, who returned from decades in exile.

Latortue has reneged on a promise to include in his government Aristide's Lavalas Family party, which remains the largest movement in the country.

On Monday, a senior police officer was reportedly detained in connection with a March 7 armed attack on anti-Aristide protesters in which seven people were killed, including a Spanish journalist.

Police Inspector Jean Michel Gaspard worked at the same Port-au-Prince station as five other officers detained last week on suspicion of killing five Aristide supporters, the Coalition for Haitian Rights reported.

In Cap-Haitien, Chamblain ordered rebels who still control much of northern Haiti to stop patrolling the streets and hand over two police stations.

But officers abandoned one after agitated residents began protesting, saying the officers had armed Aristide militants who terrorized them.

About 20 French troops took over the station, with rifles at the ready, and persuaded nervous officers to return.

``If there were policemen involved in corruption or human rights violations, we won't hesitate to fire them,'' said Renan Etienne, newly appointed police director for northern Haiti.

He said police would return this week to three other rebel-held northern towns.

Chamblain said he was not prepared to make any concessions to Aristide, whom he claimed had sent henchmen to kill his pregnant wife in 1991.

``We're enemies,'' said Chamblain. ``If Aristide was here right now, I would do to him exactly what he had the courage to do to my wife and unborn child.''

Aristide, who could not be reached at his temporary exile in Jamaica, was ousted by the army in September 1991 months after he was elected Haiti's first democratically elected leader, and was restored in 1994 by a U.S. intervention.

This time the United States refused to save Aristide, charging he ran a corrupt government and only sending troops the day he fled Feb. 29.

Copyright © 2004