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#3833: Haitian Policemen Hijack Ferry With 100 on Board (fwd)


WIRE:05/24/2000 11:45:00 ET
 Haitian Policemen Hijack Ferry  With 100 on Board
MIAMI (Reuters) - Ten Haitian police officers hijacked at  gunpoint a
ferry with more than 100 people on board in a bid for  political asylum
in the United  States but the ship ran out of  fuel off the Bahamas,
U.S. agents said on Wednesday. The officers, members of the Haitian    
National Police force,  commandeered the 120-foot (37-meter) catamaran
"Gonive  Enfleche" hours after it left the Haitian capital 
Port-au-Prince on May 16 en route to a small island off the coast, FBI
spokesman Terry Nelson said.  "A group of 10 individuals in civilian
clothes, later identified as Haitian national policemen, hijacked the  
vessel at  gunpoint, took the captain and first mate and tied them up,"
he  said.  The vessel, carrying 121 people, ran out of fuel and      
was  intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard Tuesday 30 miles south of  the
Bahamian island of Andros, about 500 miles northwest of  Haiti, the U.S.
Coast Guard said.  "The captain told them they didn't have enough fuel
to  go  to the United States but they said 'we're going anyway,"' 
Nelson said.Haitians frequently try to flee their impoverished     
Caribbean  homeland in small boats to make the 650-mile (1040 km)
journey  to the United States. Hundreds have arrived in the Bahamas, 
between Haiti and Florida, in recent weeks.The U.S. Coast Guard has
rescued 700 Haitians at sea this  year, many packed into barely
seaworthy vessels,compared with  480 last year. Haitian migrants       
intercepted at sea or on U.S.  shores are generally sent home.        
The hijacking was described by witnesses and crew to FBI  agents and
U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service  inspectors who boarded the
stalled vessel off  Andros to  determined what happened on board,    
Nelson said.  Two handguns apparently used to take over the vessel     
were  recovered, he said.  "The reason we're investigating is potential
violation of  international piracy laws," Nelson said. "We have       
jurisdiction  on the high seas if it is a U.S. flag vessel or the
victims are  U.S. citizens."The FBI was presenting information to the
U.S.Justice  Department to determine if the United States has
jurisdiction,  he said.  If authorities find the United States does not
have jurisdiction and the INS finds no basis for the officers'political
asylum claims, the Haitians would likely be returned  to their
homeland.  Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, has struggled to 
form a stable democracy following decades of dictatorship and  military
rule. It was rocked by violence in recent weeks leading  to last
Sunday'       legislative and municipal elections, the first national
vote in more than three years.The National Police force was formed just
five years ago as  Haiti's first civilian police department after former
President  Jean-Bertrand Aristide disbanded the hated army when he was 
restored to power by a U.S.-led invasion in 1994. The force, trained by
U.S. and foreign police trainers but  staffed by inexperienced officers
who lack equipment, has  struggled to maintain peace and has been dogged
by allegations  of use of excessive force and involvement in
drug-running in  Haiti, a major way station for South American cocaine
cartels.  At least 500 officers have been fired from the6,000-member 
force for human rights abuses,corruption or drug trafficking in  recent