Wed, Feb 11, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Rebel rampage claims 42 lives in Haiti as coalition opposition parties meet

FOMENT With no army and few police, President Aristide's government is not well equipped to halt violence aimed at an ouster

AP , ST. MARC, HAITI

People make their way toward the bridge at the blocked entrance of Grand Goave, 50km southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Monday, a day after rebels evicted the police and torched the station.

PHOTO: AP

At least 42 people were killed as rebels in nearly a dozen towns rampaged, prompting fears of a plot to oust embattled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

After sporadic gunbattles on Monday, police regained control of the important port city of St. Marc, 72km west of Port-au-Prince. At least two men were shot and another was allegedly shot and killed by Aristide supporters. His body was left on a roadside.

"The national police force alone cannot re-establish order," Prime Minister Yvon Neptune told reporters in St. Marc on the first visit to any of the affected towns by a senior government official.

"The violence is tied to a coup d'etat," he said the day before.

In Port-au-Prince, the capital, a coalition of opposition political parties met to discuss whether they should join the rebels. By late Monday, they had distanced themselves from the uprising.

"We do not recognize ourselves in the armed insurrection but in the peaceful struggle of the people for democracy," said Mischa Gaillard, an opposition politician who met with the Democratic Platform Monday. "We deplore violence."

The uprising began on Thursday in Haiti's fourth-largest city of Gonaives and signals a dangerous turning point in Haiti's three-year political crisis. A similar revolt in 1985 also began in Gonaives and led to the ouster of the 29-year Duvalier family dictatorship.

"We are in a situation of armed popular insurrection," said opposition politician Himler Rebu, who led a failed coup against Lieutenant-General Prosper Avril in 1989.

Tension has mounted since Aristide's party won flawed legislative elections in 2000 and international donors blocked millions of dollars in aid.

Misery has also deepened with most of the nation's 8 million people living without jobs and on less than US$1 day despite election promises from Aristide, a former priest who had vowed to bring dignity to the poor.

With no army and fewer than 5,000 poorly armed police, the government is ill-equipped to halt the revolt.

Police stations have been a major target because they symbolize Aristide's authority and officers are accused of siding with government supporters.

Since capturing Gonaives, a city of 200,000 people, the rebels have spread to towns to the west and north, including the Artibonite valley that is the breadbasket of Haiti.

Some residents fled western Grand-Goave with belongings perched on their heads on Monday, the day after rebels torched the police station. Insurgents also set ablaze stations in the northern towns of St. Raphael and Dondon, where police launched counterattacks and wounded two rebels, according to Radio Vision 2000.

It reported that police in Dondon repulsed the rebels, and that afterward government supporters torched houses of nine anti-Aristide leaders. On the highway near Grand-Goave, police fired into the air to disperse a large crowd of clashing protesters who were for and against the government. One man, identified as an Aristide partisan, was shot and killed but it was not clear by whom.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the UN "will be stepping up our own involvement fairly soon" but did not elaborate.

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