- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti — Police reinforcements fought bloody battles with gunmen as they tried to retake Haiti’s fourth-largest city yesterday from rebels who seized it two days earlier in a challenge to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

At least three police were killed and crowds mutilated the corpses. One body was dragged through the streets as a man swung at it with a machete. A woman cut off the officer’s ear.

Another policeman was lynched and his body stripped to his shorts, and residents dropped a large rock on his corpse.

Rebels said they killed 14 police officers, Haitian radio stations reported; but the claim could not be confirmed.

The uprising appeared to be spreading. Armed Aristide opponents seized the police station in the west coast town of St. Marc yesterday, firing into the air and chasing police away, private Radio Kiskeya reported.

Militants also have attacked police stations and forced out police in at least five small towns near Gonaives, Haitian radio reports said.

The rebellion had not yet reached Port-au-Prince, the capital, where throngs of government supporters marched yesterday to mark the third anniversary of Mr. Aristide’s inauguration.

Anger has been brewing in Haiti since Mr. Aristide’s party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000. The opposition refuses to join in any new vote unless Mr. Aristide resigns, which he refuses to do before his term ends in 2006.

At least 61 people have been killed in the Caribbean country since mid-September in clashes among police, government opponents and Aristide supporters.

An armed group known as the Gonaives Resistance Front drove police from the Gonaives police station during a five-hour battle on Thursday, then torched the station and other buildings. At least seven people were killed and 20 injured.

About 150 police re-entered Gonaives yesterday morning, ignoring a hail of rocks from protesters and waging gunbattles with armed rebels who hid on side streets and crouched in doorways.

It was not clear how many gunmen were fighting, but on Friday thousands of protesters marched outside Gonaives, vowing to repel any attempt to retake the city, which with its suburbs is home to 200,000 people.

The Gonaives Resistance Front used to be allied with Mr. Aristide. But the gang turned against Mr. Aristide last year and changed its name from the “Cannibal Army,” accusing the government of killing its leader, Amiot Metayer, to keep him from releasing damaging information about Mr. Aristide. The government denies this.

A number of people in Gonaives, meanwhile, said they support the militants. Some said they formed neighborhood committees to aid the militants and question visitors.

The army ousted Mr. Aristide in 1991 during his first term. He was restored in a 1994 U.S. invasion and then disbanded the army.

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