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#2098: As election approaches, Haiti faces new trials (fwd)


As election approaches, Haiti faces new trials 
 By Michael Norton, Associated Press, 1/30/2000 
This story ran on page A27 of the Boston Globe on 1/30/2000. 

 PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Just about the only thing Haiti's political   
rivals agree on is that coming elections, a critical test of a democracy
barely alive, could fall apart in an orgy of violence. The key to
preventing that is a small fledgling police force in a land once       
controlled by the now-disbanded army and its tens of thousands of      
paramilitary auxiliaries and terrorist militias.  Some say the
6,200-member police force is understaffed, ill-equipped and  not up to
the task. So the United Nations has extended the mission of foreign
officers who have been training Haiti's force for five years and had   
been scheduled to leave Nov. 30. But in a country where conspiracy
theories are common, there is no shortage of people who believe the real
danger comes from politicians who might profit from instability, sow
disorder, and keep the police from doing their  job. ''The problem is
not an insufficiently trained police force,'' said Leslie Manigat, a
former president ousted in a 1988 coup. ''The problem is a government
whose will to ensure security for elections is unsure.''The charge
touches on the explosive central issue of the March 19 parliamentary
elections, and the presidential vote to follow later this year:    
Jean-Bertrand Aristide's effort to return to power. The former Roman
Catholic priest became Haiti's first freely elected president in 1990,
succeeding a string of despots. He was overthrown by the army, leading
to the 1994 US intervention that returned him from exile. President
Clinton sent 20,000 soldiers to Haiti in part to halt an exodus of 
thousands fleeing to the United States in boats, and the world pledged
$1 billion. In 1995, when the single term allowed Aristide under the
constitution expired, he picked Rene Preval to run for president.
Preval's rule has been marked by suspicions that Aristide, who runs a
political party and charitable foundation, is really calling the shots.
Preval locked lawmakers out of Parliament to end an 18-month power
struggle over tainted elections and appointed a government by decree
last  year. Haiti's economy is in free fall, crime is rising, and people
are poorer and more insecure than ever. Rivals are convinced that unrest
is being fomented by pro-Aristide forces to  help portray him as a
savior in a time of crisis. Even though such charges are denied and
difficult to prove, in Haiti's byzantine political culture, they are
taken as fact by many people. Fears about police manipulation have
existed since Aristide saluted its first  members at their swearing-in
ceremony with his party's election slogan:'Together, together, we are

 Law enforcement has been brutal and bungling.

  Police have killed more than 150 civilians in four years, and
unidentified hit men have slain some 160 policemen. Hundreds of officers
have been  charged with using excessive force and with crimes ranging
from theft to murder. More than 50 are in jail. ''Too many were nothing
but thieves,'' said Michael Lucius, head of police intelligence.     
Last March, a former senator of the Struggling People's Organization -
the  majority parliamentary party that opposes Aristide and Preval - was
shot to  death. Shots also were fired in front of the homes of several
lawmakers, and  provincial election offices were burned. There have been
violent demonstrations by Aristide supporters calling for top police
officials to resign, and Preval forced the national security  
undersecretary, Robert Manuel, to resign after he criticized the
protesters. Manuel's probable successor was then assassinated.       
''Today the situation is the identical twin'' to a 1987 election
campaign that the army aborted in a bloodbath, said Wilfrid Saint Juste,
an opposition spokesman. Such fears prompted the United Nations to keep
140 civilian police instructors in Haiti until a March 15 handover to an
unarmed technical assistance mission. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary
General, said, ''A flare-up of violence is to be feared during the
pre-election period.'' The police promise to do their best. ''With or
without the international community, we will ensure the security of  
the electoral process,'' said Anthony Charlier, a senior police
official. Evans Paul, an opposition leader, said he considers the police
force political.''Preval can throw the whole weight of his government,
including the police, into the balance in favor of Aristide
candidates.'' But Paul said police did stop pro-Aristide toughs from
breaking up some recent opposition rallies.''When the police want to do
the job, they can,'' he said.