- The Washington Times - Monday, March 1, 2004

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — U.S. Marines continued to build their forces in Haiti yesterday as rebels entered the capital triumphantly and new looting broke out at the port a day after President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and fled the country.

About 35 Marines took up posts on the grounds of the presidential palace as rebels, followed by throngs of supporters, arrived downtown and took over police headquarters next to the palace.

Otherwise, the Marines took a hands-off attitude and merely aimed to secure “key sites” in the city. A patrol to the port was aborted because of the looting there, Col. Dave Berger, commander of the U.S. contingent in Haiti, said.

“We went to look at the port, but because of the looting and stuff, it was really hard to get in there,” Col. Berger said. “We’ve got to do more coordination to go in there and secure it.”

About 200 U.S. troops were on the ground yesterday afternoon, and more were scheduled to arrive overnight. They were accompanied by more than 100 French troops and a small contingent of Canadians.

But rebel and looters were controlling the capital. Leaders of the three-week rebellion that led to Mr. Aristide’s departure, Guy Philippe and Louis-Jodel Chamblain, rolled into the city center in SUVs, followed by a crowd of dancing, cheering supporters.

They walked into national police headquarters next to the national palace and police agents, many of whom were allied with pro-Aristide gangs until Sunday, stood by as supporters hugged Chamblain and Mr. Philippe.

Outside, residents crushed against the gates, shouting, “Long live the army.”

Both Mr. Philippe and Chamblain are former members of the Haitian army disbanded by Mr. Aristide, which they have said they want to re-establish. As word spread that the rebels had taken over, thousands of residents marched toward the police headquarters waving Haitian flags and shouting, “Whether he wanted to or not, he had to leave,” referring to Mr. Aristide.

Asked how the rebels would interact with the Marines, a grinning Chamblain said, “They are soldiers, and we are soldiers. We don’t have a problem with the Marines.”

Mr. Philippe has said the rebels would lay down their arms once the new government is in place.

The Marines posted at the palace did not intervene in the celebrations.

“We are not a police force,” Col. Berger said. “We have not been tasked with patrolling the streets.”

In the Canape Vert neighborhood, hundreds of residents crowded in a small square trying to either topple or burn a billboard with a photo of Mr. Aristide.

Mr. Aristide arrived yesterday in the Central African Republic, but it was not clear whether he would remain there.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Boniface Alexandre was sworn in as interim leader hours after Mr. Aristide fled the country. A tripartite commission made up of the opposition, members of Mr. Aristide’s government and a representative of the international community will name a “council of wise men” who would run the country until elections can be organized.

Mr. Aristide capitulated three weeks after a ragtag band of rebels began an uprising in the western port city of Gonaives and gradually took over more than half the country.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he did not want some of the leaders of the rebel groups to try to take any role in a new government.

“Some of these individuals we would not want to see re-enter civil society in Haiti because of their past records, and this is something we will have to work through,” he said.

Mr. Chamblain headed government death squads that killed Aristide followers when the Haitian military ousted Mr. Aristide in 1991. Mr. Aristide was restored by U.S. troops in 1994. Mr. Philippe was in the military when it repressed dissident politicians.

But Mr. Chamblain said there would be no reprisals this time.

“We are all sons and daughters of Haiti,” he said, adding that he did not fear prosecution for past crimes. “My hands are clean and empty.”

Opponents of Mr. Aristide, a former parish priest, accused the former president of failing to help the poor and running a corrupt government involved in international drug trafficking. He was said to have armed poor young men from the slums to attack opponents. Mr. Aristide denied all the charges.

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