- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.S. Marines landed at Haiti’s Port-au-Prince airport late last night, following by several hours the abrupt resignation and departure into exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

President Bush yesterday ordered the Marines to the country as part of a multinational interim force. A small contingent of Canadian troops is reported to be already in the city.

The contingent of about 100 Marines that landed yesterday is expected to secure key facilities as a beachhead for international peacekeeping force.

Late last night, the U.N. Security Council members reached agreement to authorize sending an international force to Haiti for three months to restore order, U.N. diplomats said.

France and perhaps other countries also were expected to rush troops to the island nation after the emergency meeting last night of the U.N. Security Council. The Marines, expected to number in the hundreds, were due sometime after nightfall, and 120 to 140 French troops were expected today.

“The government believes it is essential that Haiti have a hopeful future. This is the beginning of a new chapter,” President Bush said at the White House upon his return from a weekend at Camp David, Md.

“I would urge the people of Haiti to reject violence, to give this break from the past a chance to work. And the United States is prepared to help.”

Mr. Aristide, bowing to pressure from encroaching rebels and foreign governments, left on a jet arranged by the United States at about 6:15 a.m.

The plane refueled on the island of Antigua, but his final destination was not clear last night. There were reports last night that his plane was heading to Africa. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said in Washington that Mr. Aristide would not take refuge in the United States as he did in 1991.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre, reputed for his honesty, was sworn in as interim president, a step that won widespread acceptance.

“My resignation will avoid a bloodbath,” Mr. Aristide said in a letter of resignation read by Prime Minister Yvon Neptune with the ambassadors of the United States and France at his side. “Haiti’s constitution should not drown in the blood of the Haitian people,” the letter said.

Angry and armed, supporters of the former president took to the streets in protest as news of Mr. Aristide’s departure spread, looting pharmacies, banks and supermarkets and even the former president’s home.

But other Haitians celebrated Mr. Aristide’s departure.

“This is a miracle today,” said Herold Predestino, 33, who has been unemployed for four years since he was deported from the United States. “I want the Marines to come and calm things down.”

By afternoon, police patrolled the streets and a semblance of calm had returned to Port-au-Prince.

Mr. Bush told reporters that the task of the Marines was “to help bring order and stability to Haiti,” although an official later said the responding unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., also is trained to serve as a humanitarian task force.

Mr. Bush did not mention Justice Alexandre by name, but said, “There is an interim president, as per the constitution, in place.”

However the constitution calls for the new president to be confirmed by members of the parliament, most of whom saw their terms expire earlier this year.

The armed insurgents, who since Feb. 5 have captured much of the countryside and were closing in on the capital, pledged yesterday to lay down their arms once a new government is in place.

The U.S. peacekeeping forces “will be welcome,” said rebel leader Guy Philippe in an interview with CNN. “I think [the deployment] is a good decision. The people of Haiti need it, and the country needs it.”

Mr. Philippe, a former police chief and army lieutenant, also promised to respect the selection of Mr. Alexandre as interim president and to honor democratic practices.

Earlier yesterday, pro-Aristide gangs, which had vowed to defend the capital from a rebel assault, massed in the city center, firing their weapons and attacking gas stations and banks.

The men opened fire on at least one car filled with journalists, as the mob shouted, “International press, terrorists.” Inmates were freed from the National Penitentiary and several other jails around the country. The casualty toll was unknown.

“Chop off their heads and burn their homes,” the rioters screamed, echoing the war cry of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the general who ousted French troops and torched plantations to end slavery in Haiti 200 years ago.

U.S. Ambassador James Foley said after the arrival of the international force, a so-called “counsel of wise men” comprising members of the Roman Catholic Church, Mr. Aristide’s party Fanmi Lavalas, the opposition Democratic Convergence coalition, business leaders, human rights groups and other political parties would together name a candidate for prime minister to form a government of “transition and reconciliation.”

The Democratic Convergence, which had been in negotiations with international diplomats last week to seek a peaceful solution to Haiti’s latest crisis, apparently were caught off guard by Mr. Aristide’s departure.

“We are analyzing [the situation] in depth because the whole thing took a different spin,” said opposition leader Andre Apaid. “We wanted a negotiated process, and it was not negotiated. We were not consulted.”

Mr. Foley said the international force to be sent to Haiti would play not only a military role but would also work to rebuild the country’s institutions.

President Clinton sent 20,000 troops to restore Mr. Aristide after his first flight from power in a 1991 military coup. Although the Americans spent billions to rebuild the nation then, the country descended into rampant corruption and violence soon after the U.S. troops left.

“It is clear that the effort made 10 years ago did not yield the intended results,” Mr. Foley said.

cAudrey Hudson contributed to this report in Washington.

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