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5518:Haitian Court Sentences 30 Officers (fwd)
Thursday November 16 8:25 PM ET
Haitian Court Sentences 30 Officers
By MARIE-ANDRE AUGUSTE, Associated Press Writer
GONAIVES, Haiti (AP) - A Haitian court on Thursday sentenced more
than 30 top army officers, including coup leader Raoul Cedras, and
paramilitary leaders, to life in prison with hard labor for their roles
in a 1994 massacre.The 37 defendants were tried and sentenced in their
absence on charges ranging from criminal conspiracy to torture and
murder for an April 1994 dawn raid on Raboteau, a seaside shantytown of
Gonaives. At the trial that ran from Sept. 20 to Nov. 10, only 22 former
soldiers and cohorts appeared in court. Of those, 16 were convicted and
six were acquitted. The trial ``revealed the role of the army high
command in the massacre.In this sense, it was the trial of the coup
d'etat,'' Justice Minister Camille Leblanc told The Associated Press.
The absent defendants include Cedras and his close associate Philippe
Biamby, who received asylum in Panama; former Port-au-Prince police
chief Michel Francois, who is in Honduras; and paramilitary leader
Emmanuel ``Toto'' Constant, who lives in New York City. Prosecutors
alleged that they masterminded the attack.Also among those sentenced was
former army Col. Carl Dorelien, who lives in Florida and won $3.2
million in the state lottery in 1997.Lawyers were not allowed to defend
the absent defendants. Judge Napla Saintil tried them without jury
exclusively on the basis of the 172-page bill of accusation presented to
the court last month. They will be arrested if they return to Haiti, but
would have the right to a new trial if arrested, said U.S. lawyer Brian
Concannon, who helped the Haitian judiciary in the case. In the
Raboteau raid in April 1994, soldiers and their paramilitary thugs
burst into dozens of homes, beating and arresting people. Those who
fled to the sea were shot. No one knows how many people were killed
because soldiers prevented the victims' families from retrieving bodies.
Witnesses said dogs ate some bodies, and others were washed out to
sea. International pathologists told the court they could only identify
the bodies of three victims.The Raboteau slayings were part of a series
of attacks undertaken to break support for former President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic slum priest who became the
Caribbean country's first democratically elected leader in 1991.
Constant was tried as an accomplice in the Raboteau massacre, said
Concannon, who said documents from his paramilitary group that were
seized by the U.S. army would have been useful to the prosecution in
proving its case.`There is no proof Constant gave orders for the
Raboteau massacre. His liability is based on his setting up an illegal
organization that was meant to do things like the massacre. Technically,
complicity to murder is the same as murder,'' Concannon said.
The prosecution did not have access to some 160,000 pages of materials
seized from army and the headquarters of Constant's paramilitary group.
The United States has agreed to return the documents, but with the
names of U.S. citizens blacked out to comply with the U.S. Privacy Act.
The Haitian government has refused to accept them in censored form.