- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Agents lauded

Haiti’s cities were in flames with murderous mobs rampaging through the streets as three U.S. Diplomatic Security agents rescued U.N. officials, saved a wounded woman and protected the country’s new president.

This week Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage presented the agents with the State Department Heroism Award for their “extraordinary courage in extreme circumstances.”

Mr. Armitage recounted their deeds at a ceremony, where he noted that diplomats not only risk their lives in dangerous assignments, but also have to believe that their deeds eventually will lead to a better world.

“To be a diplomat these days, I believe you have to be an optimist,” he said. “In a sense, our job is to look at the world — a place full of violence and disease and poverty — and see a future of peace, of good health and prosperity.”

Mr. Armitage reminded the audience gathered for the ceremony of Haiti’s condition last Christmas.

“Haiti was in flames. Her cities exploding with rage, as President [Jean-Bertrand] Aristide sat in his palace doing little to stop the country’s slide into anarchy and much to spur it on,” Mr. Armitage said.

Mr. Aristide soon was removed from office and sent into exile. He was replaced by Boniface Alexandre, president of an interim government.

Mr. Armitage noted that by February, the United States had decided to evacuate American personnel and help the United Nations rescue its staffers.

Diplomatic Security Special Agents Christopher R. Belmonti, Richard Kyliavas and Alston Richardson were sent to oversee the operation.

Mr. Belmonti had been escorting staffers from the ambassador’s residence when they spotted an apparently abandoned U.S. Embassy truck full of bullet holes. When he investigated the scene, Mr. Belmonti discovered a woman with her hands bound behind her back and a gunshot wound to the head.

“As gunfire erupted on all sides, [he] freed the woman and saved her life at direct risk of his own,” Mr. Armitage said.

Mr. Kyliavas had been helping evacuate 125 personnel of the United Nations when their convoy ran into a roadblock, where 20 thugs with machetes were threatening an unarmed man they had pulled from his vehicle. Mr. Kyliavas jumped out of his armored car, aimed his rifle at the mob and ordered them to disperse. They fled quickly, leaving the defenseless driver unharmed.

Mr. Richardson had been escorting the new president to a safer part of the capital, Port-au-Prince, when his unit came under heavy automatic-weapons fire.

“With no hope of escape, this very small detail was preparing to fight their way out of the fusillade, when [Mr.] Richardson put himself in the direct line of fire to better assess the situation,” Mr. Armitage said.

“He determined that the gunfire was not directed at the president and helped guide the team to safety through sustained hostile fire.”

Think tank merger

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will increase its European expertise when the Western Policy Center joins the think tank next month.

“The expertise and focus of the Western Policy Center will enhance the Wilson Center’s work on Europe and the center’s scholarship on a key region of the world,” said Lee H. Hamilton, president and director of the Wilson Center.

John Sitilides, executive director of the Western Policy Center, will serve as chairman of the Southeast Europe Project that will be established by the Wilson Center.

Mr. Hamilton, a Democrat who represented Indiana in the House of Representatives from 1965 to 1999, served as co-chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, commonly called the September 11 commission.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.

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