Aristide to world: Help stop bloodshed
BY MARIKA LYNCH, SUSANNAH A. NESMITH AND MARTIN MERZER
PORT-AU-PRINCE -- President Jean-Bertrand Aristide begged the international community Tuesday to rescue Haiti from an intensifying rebellion that he said raised the specter of mass deaths and could propel waves of ''boat people'' to Florida.
A few hours later, political opponents rejected a U.S.-backed peace proposal, another setback for Aristide.
In the past week, more than 400 Haitian refugees reportedly have landed on beaches in Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos Islands. U.S. officials said they have not seen signs of an imminent flood of refugees to Florida.
''I ask the international community to hurry up and prevent the flow of blood,'' Aristide said in the tense, eerily quiet capital. ``I ask the international community to hurry up and augment the number of policemen. Hurry, hurry to stop the terrorists.''
The rejected peace proposal would have diminished Aristide's power but would have allowed him to remain in office. An agreement might have helped halt the rebellion against Aristide that began Feb. 5, but his opponents said it failed to address their main demand.
''We're looking for something that says Aristide will leave,'' said Charles Baker, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Platform.
SIGNS OF SPLIT
Also Tuesday, hints began emerging that Aristide's government could be fracturing.
Government spokesman Mario Dupuy said Jean-Claude Jean-Baptiste, secretary of state for social affairs, had traveled to an undisclosed country ''for health reasons.'' Radio stations reported that former senator Prince Sonson Pierre, known as an Aristide supporter, had left the country, but that could not be independently confirmed.
As Haiti continued to unravel, officials in Washington and at the United Nations sounded alarms about a growing humanitarian crisis and human rights activists sounded alarms about a potential bloodbath.
But anti-government forces advances on the ground threatened to overtake all events on the political front.
On Tuesday, police rushed 50 heavily armed special forces agents to St. Marc amid rumors that rebels would attack that western port city. Late Monday, the government apparently lost control of the northern city of Port-de-Paix as a group of unidentified gunmen burned a police station and other buildings there.
At least 70 people have been killed and many dozens wounded in clashes that began three weeks ago between rebels and Aristide's police and other defenders. Thus far, rebel forces have pushed the government out of most of northern and central Haiti.
Rebel leaders -- heady with success, still targeting the capital of Port-au-Prince and largely unaligned with the political opponents -- emphasized that they also would accept nothing less than Aristide's ouster.
''We want the target -- him -- alive,'' rebel leader Guy Philippe told The Herald during an interview in Cap Haitien, the northern city his forces seized Sunday.
Though a measure of calm seemed to return to Cap Haitien, rebels shot and killed one young man who allegedly assaulted an insurgent, and some Aristide supporters were still being detained.
WE WILL 'SUCCEED'
Nearby, on the private beach of Labadi, rebels shot and wounded a security guard for Miami-based Royal Caribbean International, which owns the property. Royal Caribbean suspended port calls at Labadi on Feb. 13.
Philippe said the rebels were ''waiting for intelligence reports'' to decide when to attack Port-au-Prince. 'There is no `if,' '' he said. ``I will succeed because the people will let us.''
He said he planned to ask the chief judge of the constitutional
court to form a consensus government. He said he has not been in contact
with members of the political
In response to all of this, politicians and diplomats in Washington,
Paris and at the United Nations spoke of a multinational peacekeeping force,
particularly if some
accommodation eventually can be reached between Aristide and his opponents.
French officials said they invited representatives of the Haitian
government and the opposition to meetings in Paris later this week -- and
the Rev. Al Sharpton, the long-shot
in the vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would travel to Haiti as a mediator -- but prospects of a successful outcome appeared dim.
Back in Port-au-Prince, Aristide issued his impassioned plea -- not for foreign soldiers but for foreign police officers who would augment his demoralized police force.
''Should those killers come to Port-au-Prince, you may have thousands
of people who may be killed,'' said Aristide, who appeared strong and confident.
``We need the
presence of the international community as soon as possible.''
''We may have more Haitians leaving Haiti by boat for Florida,'' he said.
About 1,500 additional troops from the Dominican Republic were sent Sunday and Monday to provide more security along the 225-mile border with Haiti, bringing the total to 3,000, said spokesman Col. Juan Julio Tejeda.
In Washington, officials said they have seen no signs that large numbers of Haitians were planning to take to the sea.
''We have a plan in place to stop any boats,'' said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. ``Our position is very clear. They will be returned to the country from which they departed.''
But others warned that the growing crisis could mushroom into an enormous tragedy that spills into Florida.
Sen. Bob Graham of Florida warned of a brewing ''humanitarian catastrophe'' and said the region ``was on the edge of the volcano of crisis in Haiti yet again.''
Ten years ago, Graham helped push the Clinton administration into ordering a U.S. invasion that restored order in Haiti. On Tuesday, he accused the Bush administration of ''indifference'' to the Haitian crisis, an assertion rejected by administration officials.
A Republican senator said U.S. armed forces might need to intervene.
''We may have no choice but to put together a force to go in and stabilize the situation,'' said Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio.
At the presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, groundskeepers swept leaves that fell overnight and no unusual security seemed evident.
But many street vendors -- merchants who sell vegetables, electronics and clothing -- stayed home, a sign that they believed conflict was near.
''It's a big problem for the country because it's Haitians against Haitians, and the country isn't moving forward,'' said Pierre Richard, 45, a construction worker. ``I want change for everybody, so that everybody can live.''
Herald staff writers Trenton Daniel in Port-au-Prince, Nancy
San Martin in St. Marc, Frank Davies in Washington, and Jacqueline Charles
and Ina Paiva Cordle in Miami contributed to this report.