- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 9, 2004

From combined dispatches

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti’s U.S.-backed advisory council yesterday picked former Foreign Minister Gerard Latortue as the new prime minister, a step toward forming a transitional government as supporters of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded his return from exile.



Mr. Latortue’s appointment came as U.S. Marines said they would help Haitian police disarm the general population, after pro-Aristide gunmen opened fire on opposition forces and Aristide loyalists set up flaming barricades.

The U.S. military also announced a second death caused by Marines, who, with French Legionnaires, form the vanguard of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in the troubled nation.

Mr. Latortue told Reuters news agency in an interview from his home in Boca Raton, Fla., that he hoped to “create a country to which most Haitians will want to return, including myself.”

Mr. Latortue, who was expected in Port-au-Prince today or tomorrow, has lived outside Haiti much of his adult life.

Efforts to restore calm followed a bloody insurgency that led to Mr. Aristide’s flight on Feb. 29, put rebels in control of half the country and sparked a frenzy of looting and violence. At least 130 persons were killed in the rebellion; reprisal killings since Mr. Aristide’s exit have left at least 300 dead.

Marine Col. Charles Gurganus told the Associated Press that Haitian police will lead disarmament efforts, but starting today, peacekeepers will assist in getting “the weapons off the street.”

In the worst violence since Mr. Aristide left, gunmen shot at anti-Aristide protesters Sunday, killing six and wounding more than 30. Marines said they killed one gunman.

Late Monday, Marines fatally shot a man speeding in a car toward a checkpoint. In Washington, the Pentagon said Marines in both incidents had been acting within orders.

“An individual Marine … has an absolute right to defend himself and those around him,” said Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. forces in Haiti, about 1,600 strong, have limits on their powers: They cannot stop looting, even of American companies, nor can they use force to halt Haitian-on-Haitian violence.

Their mission is to protect key sites, such as government buildings and the airport, and to pave the way for the U.N. force.

Also yesterday, a Caribbean foreign minister voiced continuing regional suspicion about the circumstances of Mr. Aristide’s departure. Mr. Aristide, in exile in the Central African Republic, insists he is still Haiti’s president and that he was abducted and forced to leave by the United States.

“We hold the United States responsible for the removal of the Haitian president,” said Louis Straker, foreign minister for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a member of the 15-nation Caribbean Community that last week called for an international investigation into Mr. Aristide’s departure.

In an interview Monday with National Public Radio, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell again denied that Washington had forced out Mr. Aristide, saying U.S. troops saved his life.

Mr. Aristide “contacted our ambassador,” Mr. Powell said, “and our ambassador made appropriate arrangements so that he could leave safely, which many people said we should make sure would happen — that nothing would happen to him. And he left of his own free will.”

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