[R-G] Haitian death squad commanders join rebels in bid to topple president Aristide
info at cinox.demon.co.uk
Mon Feb 16 03:10:40 MST 2004
16 February 2004
The Independent (UK)
Haitian death squad commanders join rebels in bid to topple president
Andrew Gumbel in Port-au-Prince
Armed rebels demanding the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti's
president, were back on the offensive yesterday, pushing out from their
stronghold in Gonaives into three small northern towns with the help of
former army officers and death squad commanders returning from exile in the
The rebels, calling themselves the Anti-Aristide Resistance Front, were
reported to have retaken Dondon, a small town they briefly held last week,
and attacked police in Sainte Suzanne. Both are on the way to the real
prize, the northern port of Cap-Haitien, which is the country's
second-largest city. Trou-du-Nord, near the Dominican border, was also
reported to be under attack.
Since the rebellion broke out 10 days ago, police and armed civilians loyal
to the president have fought to maintain control in Cap-Haitien; burning
houses of suspected opponents and intimidating others with constant volleys
of gunfire. Much of the north has been without power or fuel supplies, and
food convoys have not been able to get past Gonaives on the road north,
raising the risk of a major humanitarian crisis.
The pro-government forces now face a new challenge, as prominent members of
the army that Mr Aristide disbanded in 1994 have appeared in Gonaives,
claiming to have brought the men, money and firepower needed to take over
Visiting journalists have seen only a handful of uniformed men and no heavy
weaponry, but the rebels say they are concentrating their forces in another
town about 30 miles east of Gonaives. The new leaders include Louis-Jodel
Chamblain, who commanded army death squads in the 1980s, following the end
of the Duvalier dictatorship, and went on to found a militia called the
Front for the Advancement of Progress in Haiti, which fomented trouble after
the 1991 coup that toppled Mr Aristide following his first ascent to the
Another key figure is Guy Philippe, a sworn enemy of the president's, who
participated in the 1991 coup and was later police chief in Cap-Haitien.
Opinions differ on how quickly, or how effectively, the rebellion might
spread, but international observers are increasingly concerned about the
prospect of a protracted, low-level civil war. The United States is
particularly concerned that protracted unrest in Haiti could lead to a flood
of refugees heading towards Florida; something the Bush administration wants
to avoid at all costs in an election year in which Florida could, like last
time, play a pivotal role in determining the next occupant of the White
Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, met representatives of a number of
western hemisphere groups in Washington on Friday, to try to agree a
coherent response following a spate of ambiguous, even contradictory,
statements concerning Mr Aristide's future.
In the end, they said they would accept "no outcome that in any way
illegally removes the elected president of Haiti". Mr Powell ruled out US
military intervention, although the group said that some lesser form of
support, such as sending police reinforcements, might be possible.
Unofficial reports from Haiti and the US suggest the latter may be making
contingency plans to receive tens of thousands of Haitian refugees at its
Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.
Outside support of Mr Aristide is likely to remain lukewarm. The European
Union and US withdrew aid from Haiti three years ago in protest at what they
said were flawed legislative elections won overwhelmingly by Mr Aristide's
Many observers in Haiti blame the withdrawal of aid for the president's
increasingly repressive leadership and dependence on armed gangs and drug
dealers from the slums.
They say the West over-reacted, since the only question in the contested
election was the extent of Lavalas's victory, and is, therefore, partly to
blame for triggering the present crisis in the country.
More information about the Rad-Green