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#4958: Police on trial, accused of killing 11 (fwd)
Posted at 10:32 a.m. EDT Tuesday, August 22, 2000
Police on trial, accused of killing 11
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- (AP) -- The former police chief of Haiti's
capital and five other officers went on trial Monday in the killings of
11 people -- the first time members of Haiti's new force have faced
trial. The trial comes amid fears the new police force could turn out to
be like the trigger-happy army it replaced in 1995. ``The people are
angry. We need justice to build the country,'' dozens of protesters
chanted outside the Palace of Justice. They said they were themselves
victims of army officers never brought to trial and held up photographs
of the other victims. The killings occurred on May 28, 1999, while
police were investigating a shootout between rival gangs. Police at the
time said gangsters started shooting at officers, who returned fire,
killing 11 gang members. Witnesses said police rounded up 11 unarmed
people and shot them, some in the head as they lay face down in the
dirt. After national and international protests, arrest warrants were
issued for 20 officers. Thirteen were arrested, including Police Chief
Jean Coles Rameau, 31, who had fled to neighboring Dominican Republic.
Seven are fugitives and seven were released for lack of evidence.
``Who gave the orders and why? Those are the questions we hope will be
answered in this groundbreaking trial,'' said Jean-Claude Bajeux,
director of the Haitian Ecumenical Center for Human Rights. The police
force has been criticized for excessive force. Hundreds of officers have
been fired for crimes including drug dealing and murder. But none has
been tried. In 1999, police killed 66 people, twice the number in 1998.
``This trial has an important meaning for us: to stop police from
acting like the military,'' said Simon St.-Hubert of the Haitian Human
Rights Platform. The Haitian army killed and maimed up to 4,000
civilians in 1991-94. The trial was adjourned after a jury was chosen.
It is expected to resume Tuesday and take several days.