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#1889: After five years, U.S. to end permanent military presence in Haiti (fwd)


Posted at 4:42 a.m. EST Tuesday, January 18, 2000 
After five years, U.S. to end permanent  military presence in Haiti
BY MICHAEL NORTON Associated Press Writer 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) -- Army Pfc. David Arndt of  Columbus, Ohio,
had never seen a dead body in the street before  he came to Haiti.    
Sgt. Michael Hope of Union Springs, N.Y., will never forget how 
children beamed with gratitude when U.S. soldiers handed them      
bottles of water. They are members of the U.S. Support Group, whose
mission -- building roads and bridges, drilling wells and giving health
care to the poorest of slum dwellers -- is ending. The support group is
all that remains of the U.S. contingent of 20,000 troops President
Clinton sent to Haiti in 1994 to restore the elected government of   
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.Without fanfare, the U.S. flag will be
lowered Thursday at Camp Fairwinds for the last time, and the camp is
scheduled to close the next day. The group's 242 Haitian employees will
be laid off by Jan. 31, and the camp will be handed over to the Airport
Authority and may be used for Haitian police training. Some Haitians
fear the end of a permanent U.S. military presence  will increase the
risk of unrest as Haiti prepares for local and  legislative elections on
March 19. A police-training mission run by the United Nations is
scheduled to end March 15, at which time an unarmed mission is to take
over. But U.S. officials say Haiti has largely policed itself since 1995
 with a local police force deployed under U.N. supervision.``We haven't
been involved in internal Haitian security problems. There's no reason
to believe security will worsen after our  departure,'' said Hope, one
of 110 guards for the 197-member Support Group, which at one time had
more than 400 members. Critics in the U.S. Congress say the Support
Group mission,which has cost $20 million a year since it began in 1996,
hasn't promoted democracy in Haiti, where elections were postponed    
after a fraud-marred 1997 vote. Congress also opposes widespread U.S.
deployments at a time when the military is having problems recruiting
and retaining troops.Many Haitian politicians demanded the U.S. withdraw
its troops,  saying their presence is an affront to national
sovereignty. There have been few overt expressions of hostility to the
U.S. soldiers. Haitians celebrating in the street once threw rocks at a
  U.S. patrol, Hope said. But the soldiers defend their work here,
saying they've gained key  field experience and have made a difference
in the lives of many in this desperately poor nation. Support Group
medics treated 138,000 Haitians in Port-au-Prince's slums and at the
base camp field hospital near the international airport. Troops
distributed more than 85 tons ofdonated goods and clothing and 180 tons
of other supplies. They also repaired 170 water wells -- desperately
needed in Haiti -- and drilled 40 more.Group engineers built or repaired
50 schools, and constructed or repaired 12 miles of roads, a bridge and
a boat ramp. Arndt, 19, looked out over the sandbags in his fox tower at
Camp Fairwinds. He said he'd been shaken up by the sight of bodies left
to rot on the roadside, victims of illness, accidents or crime. He  
also said he'd been moved by the sympathy Haitians showed each other
during the medics' visits to Port-au-Prince's slums.Those visits ended
Dec. 8, and 45 of 66 medical personnel have been sent home. A giant sign
in front of Camp Fairwinds depicts two arms, in the  Haitian and U.S.
national colors, joined by a friendly handclasp. It will be pulled down
before the last four Support Group soldiers fly home Jan. 31.