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8897: [Attacks Raise Fears in Haiti of Uprising by Ex-Soldiers] (fwd)
From: Dan Craig <email@example.com>
Attacks Raise Fears in Haiti of Uprising by Ex-Soldiers
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Aug. 14 (Reuters) Deadly attacks on the police
by gunmen in military uniforms have raised fears here that remnants of
the disbanded army may be preparing a bid for power a decade after
ousting the country's current president in a coup.
Five police officers were killed and 14 wounded on July 28 when the
gunmen stormed police installations in the capital and in three
provincial towns, shouting, "Long live the army!"
At the funeral for officers killed in the raids, President Jean-Bertrand
Aristide urged former soldiers not to join any attempts to overthrow
"Don't let yourself be manipulated by people who are thirsty for power,"
President Aristide told the gathering. "In the first years of the 21st
century, it's time not to militarize power but to democratize power."
Haiti's army has been feared since it was founded in 1915, during a
United States occupation that lasted until 1934. Before being disbanded
in 1995, the army relentlessly pillaged the public treasury, overthrew
governments and tortured citizens.
The army also trained some of the top leaders of the Tontons Macoutes,
the paramilitary force employed by Francois Duvalier and his son, Jean-
Claude Duvalier, to keep an iron grip on the country for nearly 30
years. Today the only national security force in Haiti is its police.
The army's return could bring a violent uproar to a poverty-stricken
country that has been trying desperately to temper disorder and
strengthen a nascent democracy.
Mr. Aristide and members of his political party, Lavalas Family, have
frequently said that "certain sectors" are plotting a coup.
"They haven't gotten it out of their heads yet," the president of the
Senate, Yvon Neptune, said shortly after the assaults last month, "and
they still think that it is possible for the army to return."
Fueling those suspicions are public statements from some former military
"In all countries the military has a role: ensuring stability in the
country," said Himmler Rebu, former commander of a special unit that
tried to overthrow President Prosper Avril in 1989. Mr. Avril himself
had seized power in a coup and was charged in June with the torture and
false arrests of opposition members in 1989 and 1990.
"Haiti needs a military," Mr. Rebu said in a recent interview. "The real
security of the country is the army."
Haiti's army overthrew Mr. Aristide in a coup in 1991 and then, with the
support of paramilitary forces, terrorized his strongholds. Thousands of
Haitians are believed to have been killed in the turmoil.
After Mr. Aristide, Haiti's first democratically elected president,
regained power with the backing of American troops three years later, he
disbanded the army and replaced it with a civilian police force.
The military's former officers are scattered through the police force
and the government. Senator Dany Toussaint, a former police chief, and
Richard Salomon, a close Aristide ally, are among those with military
The political opposition group Convergence, an eclectic 15-party
alliance that includes some of Mr. Aristide's right-wing foes who aided
his overthrow, now argues that the police force is corrupt, understaffed
and controlled by Mr. Aristide.
In February, Convergence named Gerard Gourge "provisional president" of
Haiti in a move to challenge President Aristide's authority. In March,
Mr. Gourge rallied nearly 1,000 former soldiers in a demonstration to
call for the army's return.
"In principle, we support the need for the military to return," said
Jose Jacques Nicolas, a Convergence member who represents the National
Christian Movement for Haiti. "It's a necessity for the country, for the
country's political organization, for the country's development. A
country without a military force is left to be destroyed."
But Mr. Nicolas said that he condemned much of the former army's
behavior and that a new military would have to be better organized and
Convergence has not pushed for the army's return during its weekly news
conferences, which suggests a division over the issue. Micha Gaillard, a
member of the leftist National Congress of Democratic Movements, also a
part of Convergence, said the army was not crucial to achieving Haiti's
"It's not necessary to bring back the army," he said, "but to integrate
the former soldiers into the police to give security to the population."
Human rights workers agree. They say that Haiti is not an attractive
target for a foreign military takeover, that there are no outside
threats and that a military would succumb to the same political
temptations as the police force. The answer, they say, lies in reforming
the police force.
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company