- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Pentagon yesterday announced it has expanded the role of American troops patrolling the streets of Haiti as lawmakers on Capitol Hill called for a substantial increase in the size of the U.S. force in order to secure order in the troubled Caribbean nation.

International troops in Haiti now will intervene to prevent any Haitian-on-Haitian violence, as well as protect key sites and disarm the population ahead of the arrival of a larger United Nations force aimed at reestablishing law and order, according to Army Gen. James Hill, the chief of U.S. Southern Command.

Gen. Hill, who heads the burgeoning “Multinational Interim Force” of more than 2,400 troops, told reporters at the Pentagon the amended rules of engagement are in addition to disarming any Haitian not authorized to carry a firearm.

“When Multinational Interim Force personnel encounter any acts of violence, they will intervene to protect life,” he said.

The general said U.S. forces will also search for arms caches, but added there has been no sign so far of any kind of organized insurgency akin to the deadly attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq.

The changes mean that a U.S. intervention that began as a mission to protect the American embassy compound in Port-au-Prince now includes the more dangerous assignment of disarming citizens and stopping violence. U.S. officials said there were no plans to intercede to stop rampant looting.

“No one from the multinational force going in was going to stand there and watch one Haitian kill another Haitian without trying to intervene in that,” Gen. Hill said.

Some 1,600 American troops are spearheading the interim international force trying to restore order in the half-island nation following the resignation and abrupt exile of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide Feb. 29.

Newly named interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, an economist and former foreign minister who had been living in Florida, arrived in Port-au-Prince yesterday vowing to improve security in advance of the establishment of a permanent new government.

More than a week after Mr. Aristide’s dawn departure, armed bands of pro-Aristide and opposition forces continue to roam the streets and bodies have been found on the side of the road shot execution-style.

U.S. forces have also come under fire, and Marines have killed four Haitians in recent days. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace have defended the actions.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, lawmakers said the situation called for a larger U.S. military commitment.

“It is abundantly clear there are not enough troops,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican. “Unless there are more troops put into Haiti by the United States, we are not going to be able to stabilize the situation.”

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, added: “One lesson of our past involvements in nation- building is that you need to use maximum, not minimum, military presence at the outset.”

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the number of international forces in Haiti would soon reach 3,400. In addition to the 1,600 American troops, the contingent now includes 516 French, 328 Chilean and 52 Canadian troops.

“Other countries have offered support and we have undertaken urgent diplomatic efforts to make these troops available in the short run,” said Mr. Noriega.

The Bush administration yesterday also defended its handling of Mr. Aristide, who fled in a U.S.-provided jet after a deadly two-week uprising. U.S. officials said the exiled leader’s corrupt rule had lost all legitimacy.

Lawyers for Mr. Aristide said they were preparing a case against the United States, accusing it of having abducted the former leader and flown to the Central African Republic against his will.

Mr. Noriega dismissed Mr. Aristide’s claims as “ridiculous,” but said that: “A democratically elected government can undermine its democratic legitimacy by the manner in which it governs.”

Democratic senators and Congressional Black Caucus members, angered by Washington’s decision not to stand by Mr. Aristide, lashed out at the administration’s stance.

“It is clear that a coup d’etat took place in Haiti,” said Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat.

Mr. Noriega insisted that Mr. Aristide’s departure from Haiti was never a U.S. demand, but pointedly added the administration had decided “that merely propping up the Aristide government was not worth risking American lives.”

U.S. lawyer Brian Concannon, who met with Mr. Aristide, said in Paris yesterday there were “preparations for a kidnapping case against the American authorities.” Cases are being prepared in the United States and France, he said.

“He was not free to leave the plane,” Mr. Concannon said. “He was not free to decide the plane’s direction. He did not even know where the plane was going.”

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