- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s rebel leader said yesterday his fighters moved closer to the capital and awaited an order to attack unless President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigns.

Government loyalists threatening death and torture began building defenses in front of the National Palace.

The United Nations Security Council discussed the issue, and Caribbean nations urged the immediate authorization of a multinational force to end the violence and restore law and order. But key council members France and the United States said they want a political settlement first.

In an interview with CNN, Mr. Aristide said he would not resign. He said a small international force — “a couple of dozen” soldiers or police — could prompt the rebels to stand down. Referring to the rebels, he said: “At any time, those terrorists may come to Port-au-Prince and kill thousands of people.”

The insurgents, who have overrun half of the country in the 3-week-old rebellion, would not be expected to face much resistance in the capital from Haiti’s ill-equipped police force.

But hundreds of Aristide supporters, some armed with machetes and pistols, gathered yesterday in front of the National Palace and, with teenagers driving bulldozers and forklifts, started building a defensive rampart.

“If Aristide goes, cut off their heads and burn down their houses,” they shouted, echoing the war cry of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the Haitian general who ousted French colonizers from Haiti to end slavery 200 years ago.

The Aristide loyalists shouted epithets against France, whose Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on Wednesday blamed Mr. Aristide for Haiti’s crisis and called for him to resign.

As rumors spread that the rebels were arriving by boat, truckloads of Aristide supporters armed with old pistols were seen heading toward the seaside Carrefour neighborhood.

In Carrefour, gunmen fired shots at the home of Haiti’s most prominent architect, Albert Mangones, and wounded a security guard, a family member said.

Rebel leader Guy Philippe said the pro-Aristide militants, called chimeres or angry young men, were not his enemies.

“We are calling for everybody to stay home, not to fight against us because we are fighting for them,” Mr. Philippe said in an interview in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.

“All those chimeres, we have nothing against them,” he said. “We know Mr. Aristide gave them some money, and we know how poor they are.”

Some 90 miles to the south, Port-au-Prince was a city on edge.

Americans with M-16s guarded a convoy of U.N. workers and their families on the way to the airport, passing street barricades made of wrecked and abandoned cars as well as rocks and tires built by Aristide supporters to block the city from a rebel assault.

Military helicopters of the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, were ferrying people from the Dominican Embassy to the airport.

The international airport was packed, mostly with Haitian-Americans trying to return to the United States.

“Anyone is going to want to save his own skin. It’s a state of fear,” said a 34-year-old Haitian who lives in New York and did not want to give his name.

The capital was mainly calm in the morning, a day after sporadic looting erupted, but more and more barricades, some of burning tires, were set by Aristide supporters later in the day.

At the roadblocks, people were being robbed. Businesses were shuttered, long lines formed at the few open banks and gas stations, and streets were mostly devoid of people.

One member of an opposition coalition, which denies links with the rebels but shares their insistence that Mr. Aristide must go, predicted he would soon fall.

“The day of deliverance has come. Aristide’s departure is imminent,” opposition politician Claire Lydie Parent said on the radio.

The Organization of American States held a special meeting to discuss the crisis. Mr. Aristide’s foreign minister and chief of staff were in Paris to meet with Mr. de Villepin.

France has called for the immediate establishment of an international civilian force to be deployed once a government of national unity has been established, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell indicated yesterday that Washington also wants a political solution before any international intervention.

Mr. Powell said the United States is willing to participate in any international force sent to Haiti to enforce a political settlement. He said France, Canada and Caribbean countries also have indicated willingness to participate.

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