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a770: Haitian opposition activists and journalist charged withbelonging to a kidnapping ring (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Haitian opposition activists and journalist charged with belonging to a kidnapping ring
Wed Feb 13, 5:41 PM ET
By MICHAEL NORTON, Associated Press Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - Police have arrested and charged a journalist and 13 opposition political activists with belonging to a kidnapping ring, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

"It has nothing to do with politics. They were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a ring of kidnappers," said Jean-Dady Simeon.

At least six businessmen or members of their families have been kidnapped and ransomed in the past two months.

Evans Paul, leader of the opposition Convention of Democratic Unity party to which eight of the arrested men belong, denied the men could have been part of any kidnappings.

"The police have cooked up another tall tale, to clamp down on the opposition," Paul said.

The arrests occurred Friday and Saturday. Sixteen were detained, but two were immediately released.

Police identified the license plate of the vehicle in which five suspects were arrested Friday as that of a vehicle used in a recent kidnapping, Simeon said.

All five are members of the Convention of Democratic Unity, including former Rep. Jean Mandenave, who is an executive committee member of the party.

Nine others were arrested Saturday at two private homes. Three of them are members of the Convention of Democratic Unity party. Five are opposition political activists. The ninth was journalist Jennet Morin.

Wakimg Exume, newsroom director of the private Radio Magik Stereo F.M. where Morin works said Morin was not a member of any political party.

The 14 were arrested without warrant and jailed in three separate metropolitan lockups, Paul said.

Originally it was thought the men were arrested on suspicion of planning to disrupt the three-day carnival festivities that began Sunday.

In an interview with his radio station broadcast Monday, Morin said police "told me I had been arrested because I was participating in political meetings to destabilize the country" during carnival. He said the accusation was "totally false."

Opposition parties have been locked in a dispute with the government over the 2000 elections that gave President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's party victories in 80 percent of the legislative and local races.

The 15-party opposition alliance Convergence has said the elections were rigged. Although the government and opposition have agreed to have a new vote, they have not been able to agree on the conditions for it.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid has been suspended until the two sides settle the dispute.

The opposition has complained of persecution by the government and Aristide supporters.

Aristide supporters burned down the headquarters of Paul's party on Dec. 17, the same day as an attack on the National Palace. In that attack, gunmen raided the palace and remained inside for seven hours before fleeing. No officials were injured, but 10 people were killed in the attack and subsequent violence.

The government says the palace attack was a coup attempt, while the opposition claims it was staged to repress dissent.