- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2005

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The interim prime minister met last week with former soldiers who helped topple President Jean-Bertrand Aristide last year, giving them back pay in an effort to placate increasingly restless fighters who still control several provincial towns.

Gerard Latortue distributed checks Dec. 28 to about 50 members of Haiti’s demobilized army in the central town of Hinche, said Jacques Abraham, an official who coordinates the government’s dealings with the ex-soldiers.

“They were in a very emotional state on receiving their checks,” Mr. Abraham said. “Some of them trembled.”

It was Mr. Latortue’s second meeting with former soldiers since his government agreed to their demands for 10 years of back pay.

The ex-soldiers claim they are owed the money because Mr. Aristide disbanded the army in 1995, after a U.S.-backed intervention restored him to power after the 1991 military coup that first ousted him.

The ex-soldiers and others who are accused of killings, rapes and torture under the 1991-94 military regime led a three-week rebellion in February that drove Mr. Aristide into exile in South Africa. The rebels still control several towns, sometimes driving police from their stations and insisting they are better prepared to provide security.

Mr. Latortue agreed to their demands after a group of ex-soldiers occupied Mr. Aristide’s abandoned estate outside this capital two weeks ago, triggering a two-day showdown with U.N. peacekeepers. The U.N. troops eventually forced their way into the compound and persuaded the rebels to turn in their weapons and leave.

On Dec. 28, Mr. Latortue distributed checks to 33 ex-soldiers who seized Mr. Aristide’s old estate. Another 100 ex-soldiers were compensated Dec. 29 in the southern town of Jacmel, and 93 more got payments yesterday in Port-au-Prince, Mr. Abraham said.

Officials have said it could cost the government $29 million to compensate about 6,000 former soldiers, though it has not explained where the money will come from. The government has also agreed to help the ex-soldiers find jobs, but it insists it has no mandate to reinstate the army.

Scores of men claiming to belong to the demobilized army have lined up at the Port-au-Prince police academy — where the first 33 soldiers were paid — to apply for government jobs, including posts in the police force.

Of the 14,000 people who claimed to be former soldiers at sign-up centers across the country in recent months, fewer than half were determined to have been in the army when it was dismantled, said Marc Charles, who conducted the government census.

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