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24506: (news) Chamberlain: Haiti police absorbs army and stokes rights fears (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
By Joseph Guyler Delva
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, March 16 (Reuters) - Former rebel soldiers
dominate the high command of Haiti's police force and hundreds more are
joining its lower ranks, stoking fears of a surge in rights violations in
the troubled Caribbean country.
Several hundred members of the disbanded Haitian army, many of whom
took up arms in February 2004 against then-President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide, have joined the Haitian National Police and more will follow,
according to government officials.
The authorities in the poorest nation in the Americas say the recruits
are screened to ensure none have histories of drug trafficking, corruption
or human rights violations that marked the army during military rule before
Aristide came to power.
But the Lawyers' Committee for Individual Rights, known as CARLI and
one of the main human rights groups in Haiti, said some are already being
blamed for abuses against supporters of the exiled Aristide.
"Many of the killings and summary executions in pro-Aristide slums are
believed to have been carried out by ex-soldiers who became police,"
CARLI's head, Renan Hedouville, told Reuters. "They (the victims) are
sometimes killed with their hands tied up or with their hands behind their
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest who was a hero to Haiti's
poor masses when he first won the presidency in 1990, left Haiti on Feb.
29, 2004, in the face of a monthlong revolt by armed gangs and former
soldiers and under U.S. and French pressure to quit. He is living in South
Haiti has struggled to establish a stable democracy after decades of
dictatorship. Its dreaded, coup-prone army killed thousands during the
Duvalier family dictatorship, which ended in the mid-1980s, and when it
first ousted Aristide in 1991.
Aristide disbanded the army in 1995 and, with United Nations help,
established a civilian police force.
But the force, weakened by corruption and political interference in
the latter years of Aristide's rule, was easily overrun by the rebels last
year. Some former soldiers have demanded that the interim government
installed after Aristide's departure reinstate the army.
In addition to the rank and file, the police high command is now
dominated by ex-military, including Police Chief Leon Charles and Inspector
General in Chief Frantz Jean-Francois.
Only one of the top 12 police commanders in the Port-au-Prince area
does not have a military background, and most regional police chiefs are
Jean-Francois declined to comment.
The Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations, a coalition of
groups, said the situation was "dangerous."
"Police officers and soldiers receive quite different training. It's
not likely that ex-soldiers who become police will get rid of their
military reflexes," Rony Maxime, the leader of the coalition, said.
Damian Onses-Cardona, a spokesman for a U.N. force trying to keep the
peace between supporters and foes of Aristide, said ex-soldiers joining the
police received the same training as other graduates from the police
U.N. civilian police monitors also teach human rights to applicants at
the academy, he said.
"The (U.N.) mission would be absolutely against any ex-military
integrating into the police with a criminal record," Onses-Cardona said,
calling on critics to present documented cases of abuse to the mission's
human rights unit.
Ultimately, a law-abiding police force is crucial to establishing a
healthy democracy in Haiti, analysts say.
"If the police become the de facto army, then nothing in fact has
changed," said Robert Fatton, chair of the Woodrow Wilson Department of
Politics at University of Virginia.