Mon, Dec 20, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Haitian rebel leader urges ex-soldiers to start guerrilla war

STAND-OFF The call came one day after the government asked the UN to retake the home of the former president that the rebels are occupying

PORT-AU-PRINCE , HAITI

A Haitian rebel leader has called on ex-soldiers, who helped oust former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to launch a guerrilla war to unseat the interim government that replaced him.

The call on Saturday came a day after the government asked UN troops to remove rebels who occupied Aristide's former home and called it their new headquarters.

"We called on former military from across the country to organize a guerrilla warfare to give a response to the government," said Remissainthes Ravix, the self-proclaimed commander of the former military, which took over the former Aristide compound on Thursday.

The stand-off over Aristide's home underlined the violence and tensions plaguing Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, despite the presence of some 6,000 Brazilian-led UN peacekeeping troops and police.

At the request of the Haitian government, UN peacekeepers stormed the compound on Friday, disarmed about 50 rebel former soldiers and bused them to the capital's police academy, where they remained on Saturday.

It was not clear what their status was, but Justice Minister Bernard Gousse said their stay at the academy would be temporary. He did not give any details.

"[Police Chief] Leon Charles and the government are responsible for what is happening in the country," said Ravix, who accused the government of betraying former soldiers.

The ex-soldiers, who joined a revolt against Aristide that pushed him into exile in February, have fallen out with the authorities.

The rebels are demanding that the army, disbanded by Aristide nine years ago, be reinstated and that former soldiers be given 10 years in back pay.

Interim authorities, led by Prime Minister Gerard Latortue, have turned down the back pay claim but have agreed to pay an "indemnity" before year's end.

The government has also said a decision on reinstating the military should be made by an elected government scheduled to take office in February 2006.

Rebel soldiers still control large chunks of the Caribbean nation of 8 million. Aristide, the former priest and champion of Haiti's poor, who faced accusations of corruption and despotism in recent years, is living in exile in South Africa.

About 200 people have been killed since early September in gang wars and clashes between Aristide foes and supporters of his Lavalas Family party.

Former military personnel in Petit-Goave, about 60 km south of Port-au-Prince, were holding a policeman hostage on Saturday after police in the neighboring town of Miragoane arrested and detained four rebel former soldiers who attacked a police station there.

The rebels said they would release the policeman in exchange for their colleagues.

Police officers in the provincial city of Mirebalais, in the Central Plateau -- controlled by the rebels -- have fled, fearing reprisals.

Ex-soldiers have confiscated automatic weapons from the police, according to a Haitian police spokeswoman, Jessie Coicou.

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