February 24, 2004

Aristide warns more Haitians will become boat people

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) --President Jean-Bertrand Aristide appealed Tuesday
for the world to come to Haiti's aid, warning that thousands of deaths and a wave of boat
people could result from political chaos.

"Should those killers come to Port-au-Prince, you may have thousands of
people who may be killed," Aristide said at a news conference. "We need the
presence of the international community as soon as possible."

Aristide made the appeal as rebels threatened the capital and hours before
opposition politicians were to give a formal response to a U.S.-backed peace
plan at 5 p.m.

Asked if he was calling for a military intervention, Aristide said he wanted the
international community to strengthen Haiti's police force, under an old
agreement with the Organization of American States.

On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned officials from the
opposition coalition and persuaded them to delay their response as the United
States and others appeared to be making last-ditch efforts to win a political

The rebels have set up a base in Gonaives, Haiti's fourth-largest city 70 miles
northwest of Port-au-Prince, and rebel leader Guy Philippe said he was setting
up a second one in Cap-Haitien, the northern port and second-largest city that
was seized Sunday.

But Philippe told The Associated Press that he has been using a strategy of
seizing towns, systematically driving out enemies, winning over the population
and moving to the next target. The rebels effectively control the north now and
the central Artibonite District where more than 1 million people live.

He also said in an interview with the AP that he does not want to install a
military dictatorship but is seeking to re-establish the army that was disbanded
after ousting Aristide in 1991.

An attack on Port-au-Prince was unlikely Tuesday, as Philippe said his fighters
had spent the night searching in vain for government forces.

Aristide agreed to the peace plan Saturday, but his political opponents have
stalled, insisting that only his resignation can guarantee peace. The plan would
allow him to remain president with diminished powers, sharing with political
rivals a government that would organize elections.

Western diplomats in Port-au-Prince confirmed Tuesday that Aristide had
asked France for military intervention last week, when he publicly was asking
only for more international assistance to strengthen his demoralized police

French President Jacques Chirac said Tuesday his country is ready to consider
contributing to any eventual peacekeeping force, but only one approved by the
United Nations.

"France does not exclude contributing to a civilian force for peace," he said,
adding however that such a deployment "depends on a decision of the Security

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is to meet later this week in
Paris with representatives of the Haitian government and opposition to try to
resolve the crisis, the ministry said.

"New efforts are being pursued today to persuade the legal opposition to adopt
a constructive attitude," said ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous.

The United States sent 50 Marines to Port-au-Prince on Monday, but Western
diplomats and a Defense Department official insisted their mission was only to
protect the U.S. Embassy and staff.

At his news conference, Aristide made an emotional call for Haitians to stay in
the country, instead of fleeing to Florida, so that they can vote in new elections.

"The criminals and terrorists went to the north, to Port-de-Paix, and burned
private and public buses, killing people," Aristide said.

"Unfortunately many brothers and sisters in Port-de-Paix will not come down
to Port-au-Prince; they will take to the sea, they will become boat people," he

Most boat people seeking to go to the United States are picked up by the U.S.
Coast Guard and returned home. Others land up in the Bahamas and Cuba. On
Monday, 32 Haitian boat people landed in Jamaica, bringing to 62 the number
who have arrived there in three boatloads in the past 10 days.

Jamaica has not seen numbers like that since the flood of boat people that fled
a brutal military dictatorship in Haiti in 1991-94. Then, tens of thousands of
refugees reached Florida's shores.

Ten years ago, Washington sent 20,000 troops in 1994 to end the dictatorship,
restore Aristide and halt the exodus to Florida. But the Bush administration has
made clear it won't commit a large number of troops this time.

Philippe, still in Cap-Haitien, told the AP that his movement wants to
re-establish the army but said a military dictatorship is "not good for the

"The military should stay in the barracks," said Philippe, formerly Aristide's
assistant police chief for northern Haiti. Even if the opposition coalition accepts
the U.S. peace plan, the rebels insist they will disarm only when Aristide is out
of power.

Asked if he was in contact with opposition politicians, Philippe smiled and said
"not officially." He refused to elaborate.

Opposition leaders disputed that.

"We refuse to have contacts with the rebels, as well as with Aristide," said
Mischa Gaillard, a spokesman for the opposition coalition. "We don't want to
be tainted with any suspicion of condoning violence."

The opposition has said it is a nonviolent movement that supports the rebel goal
of getting Aristide to step down. Aristide maintains that opposition factions are
supporting the rebellion and the rebels are an armed wing of the political

Philippe said he was on his way to a Western Union office to pick up donations
being sent by Haitians in the United States and Canada. He said his rebellion
also was being funded by businessmen in Haiti.

Cap-Haitien is just 90 miles north of Port-au-Prince, but is a seven-hour drive
over potholed roads sometimes reduced to bedrock.

Aristide, hugely popular when he was elected especially among the destitute in
the Western hemisphere's poorest country, has since lost a lot of support.
Opponents accuse the former priest of failing to help those in need, condoning
corruption and

masterminding attacks on opponents by armed gangs. Aristide denies the
charges. Flawed legislative elections in 2000 led international donors to freeze
millions of dollars in aid.

At least 70 people have died in the unrest since the revolt began.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.