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5479: Soldiers' murder convictions seen as boost to justice in Haiti (fwd)
Published Saturday, November 11, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Soldiers' murder convictions seen as boost to justice in Haiti
By YVES COLON
Haiti strengthened its shaky justice system Friday when a jury found 16
former soldiers guilty of taking part in a rampage six years ago, when
dozens of residents of a seaside slum were beaten and shot to
death. Judge Napla Saintil sentenced 12 defendants to life imprisonment
with hard labor. Four others were sentenced to between four and nine
years' imprisonment, while six were acquitted. The masterminds of the
killings in Raboteau -- members of the former military junta that ousted
President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from power nine years ago --
will be tried separately beginning Monday, though they are living in
exile. The overthrow of the elected government precipitated a U.S.
military invasion to reinstate Aristide.
Those to be tried in absentia include coup leaders Raoul Cedras and
Philippe Biamby, who received asylum in Panama; former Port-au-Prince
police chief Michel François, who is in Honduras; and paramilitary
leader Emmanuel ``Toto'' Constant, who lives in New York City.
The soldiers' trial ``revealed the role of the army high command in the
massacre,' Justice Minister Camille Leblanc said. ``In this sense, it
was the trial of the coup d'état.'' Among those sentenced to life are
Jean Pierre, a former leader of the FRAPH paramilitary; Castera
Cenafils, a former army captain; and Mondelus Norelus, also called
``Saddam Hussein.'' The verdict came after 12 jurors deliberated for
five hours. The judge ruled that all the convicted men's property would
be confiscated if they fail to pay $2,272 in damages to 15 victims, a
large amount for a country where the average income is $350 a year.
That didn't make Fritz Desir feel whole. He was beaten by paramilitary
gunmen who surrounded Raboteau, where support for Aristide was strong.
He told prosecutors that soldiers shot down men, women and children as
they fled toward the sea and their fishing boats. ``Everybody is
frustrated,'' Desir said. ``Everybody's morale is down because
nothing happened to the leader of the platoon of these goons,'' he
said, alluding to Wilson Casseus, who went free despite the testimony of
six witnesses. Pierre Charleston saw the trial differently. He runs a
small hotel in Gonaives, the dusty town north of the capital where the
killings took place. The trial, he said, will boost Haitians' confidence
in their judicial system.
``Before this trial began, we thought it wasn't going to be something
serious,'' he said. ``It's the first time we can remember the judicial
process to run its course. Now we feel a little safer. We need that to
live here in peace.'' The Raboteau trial was the second time Haitian
officials put on trial authority figures for human rights
violations. In September, six police officers were found guilty of
executing 12 young men in a raid last year.