Sunday, February 15, 2004

GONAIVES, Haiti — Former military and paramilitary leaders who were ousted in the 1994 U.S. invasion of Haiti returned from exile in the Dominican Republic over the weekend to join a 10-day-old revolt aimed at toppling President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Rebel leader Buteur Metayer announced his alliance with Louis Jodel Chamblain, former co-leader of a paramilitary group called the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), and Guy Philippe, a former military officer wanted by the government for a 2001 coup attempt.

“What we’re doing right now, it will happen all over the country. It hasn’t started yet, but it will soon,” Mr. Metayer told reporters in Gonaives, Haiti’s fourth-largest city, located about 70 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

“There is only one way to negotiate with Aristide: He has to go,” said Mr. Metayer, a stout, bald man with a goatee, wearing sunglasses and a blue Nike shirt.

All three sat together at an impromptu press conference held in a dirt-floored structure made of corrugated tin and wooden planks in a seaside slum in Gonaives.

They were flanked by several other apparent former soldiers, dressed in camouflage and carrying a motley array of aging firearms.

With Mr. Chamblain and Mr. Philippe, an unknown number of former military officers appeared to have joined forces with Mr. Metayer’s Gonaives Resistance Front.

Mr. Chamblain’s former group, FRAPH, killed and tortured scores of people prior to the 1994 invasion by 20,000 American troops that restored Mr. Aristide, then exiled in the United States, to power.

“Right now, we have control of Gonaives,” said Mr. Metayer. “Before, the government couldn’t take us, and much less now, because of Guy Phillippe.”

The seizure of Gonaives cut the two-lane highway connecting Haiti’s two largest cities, Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien, dividing the nation and triggering food and gas shortages in the north.

In recent weeks, nearly 50 people have been killed in Gonaives and several other towns from which the national police have been driven out.

Witnesses reached by telephone yesterday said rebels who returned from exile in the Dominican Republic were massing in Saint-Michel de l’Atalaye, about 28 miles east of Gonaives, the Associated Press reported.

“Chamblain and his men are taking advantage of the situation to further their own ends, ends that would mean the perversion of the democratic movement,” Himler Rebu, an opposition leader and former army colonel who led a failed coup attempt in 1989 against Lt. Gen. Prosper Avril, told the AP.

But he warned the international community that the longer Mr. Aristide stays in power, the harder it will be to restore order in Haiti.

Discontent has grown in this Caribbean country of 8 million people since Mr. Aristide’s party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors froze millions of dollars in aid.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Friday the United States and other nations plan no new military intervention in the current crisis, but that they would not accept a forceful removal of Mr. Aristide from power.

Emergency supplies of flour, cooking oil and other basics are projected to run out shortly in northern areas, where roadblocks are guarded by rebels.

Rebels have also blocked the road outside Trou-du-Nord leading to the Dominican border at Ouanaminthe.

Merchants turned back, saying the barricade of boulders and cars has cut supplies coming from the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

U.N. representative Adama Guindo appealed to police and rebels to open a “humanitarian corridor.” Barricades have blocked deliveries to some 268,000 people dependent on food aid in northern Haiti.

Rebels also have retaken the town of Dondon and burned dozens of houses of Aristide supporters, according to witnesses who fled to the nearby northern port of Cap-Haitien.

Overnight, rebels also attacked police in Saint Suzanne, some 20 miles southwest of Cap-Haitien, according to witnesses reached by telephone.

Haiti has only 5,000 police officers. The army has been disbanded by Mr. Aristide.

Opposition leaders planned a mass protest in Port-au-Prince today.

On Thursday, pro-Aristide militants crushed a planned anti-government demonstration, stoning opponents and blocking the protest route. Protests have occurred steadily since mid-September.

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