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a752: Aristide increases guards (fwd)





From: JD Lemieux <lxhaiti@yahoo.com>

Haitian president expands guards
Coup attempt prompts move; many are vets of U.S.
Special Forces
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Knight Ridder/tribune
Originally published February 10, 2002



Fearing for his life after an apparent coup attempt in
December, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti
has significantly expanded his team of bodyguards,
most of them veterans of U.S. Special Forces, said
sources in Haiti and Washington.
One U.S. government official said the number of
bodyguards grew from about 10 to about 60 men and
estimated the total cost at from $6 million to $9
million a year, a considerable sum for the poorest
nation in the Western Hemisphere. Aristide's contract
with the California-based Steele Foundation, a private
executive protection company despite its name, also
calls for a "weapons package" for the guards worth
just under $1 million, the official added.

The tightened security reflects the political crisis
facing Aristide, toppled in a military coup in 1991,
restored after a U.S. invasion in 1994 and then
re-elected in 2000.

Ken Kurtz, a managing director of Steele, confirmed
that the company provides Aristide's "presidential
protection unit" but declined to comment on the
reports that it has expanded or any other "operational
questions."

"The government of Haiti, like any government after a
violent incident such as happened [in December], would
be interested in improving security," Kurtz said on
the phone from San Francisco.

On Dec. 17, two dozen heavily armed men attacked the
National Palace in Port-au-Prince, killing two
policemen and two passers-by in an apparent coup
attempt allegedly led by a former army colonel and two
former police officials. Aristide was not in the
palace at the time. The president's opponents said the
attack was staged by the government to justify the mob
violence against critics that followed, which left
four more dead, but offered no evidence to support
their claims.

Since then, Aristide is regularly escorted by a
helicopter carrying bodyguards and a caravan of
vehicles that includes a truck mounted with a machine
gun, which was used by the attackers in the assault on
the palace, Haiti residents said.

"There has been a significant increase in the
security, from 10 to 60 bodyguards and a lot more
heavy weaponry," said the U.S. official, an expert on
security issues who declined to be identified.

The bodyguards are mostly veterans of U.S. Special
Forces - SEALs, Delta Force, Army Rangers and Marine
reconnaissance units - but include a handful of
non-Americans, the U.S. official said.

Kurtz, a former Los Angeles Police Department official
who joined Steele in 1997, has described the Haiti
operation in public speeches as that country's first
"privatized presidential unit."

Kurtz said the Steele Foundation has had an "executive
protection" contract with the Haitian government "for
years" but declined to comment on the specifics.

Another company offering high-level bodyguard services
said it would usually charge from $100,000 to $150,000
per man per year on a foreign assignment, more if the
job is considered risky.

Most of Haiti's political violence in recent months
has come from Aristide supporters attacking what they
see as a disloyal opposition blocking the work of the
former priest.

The Organization of American States voted earlier this
month to send a permanent mission to Haiti to ensure
the country's stability and called for an independent
investigation of the Dec. 17 attack.



Copyright  2002, The Baltimore Sun


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