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Haitian police take back rebel town
Updated: 2004-02-10 10:05

Haitian police took back a city from armed gangs on Monday, delivering the government its first victory in a 5-day-old armed revolt that has presented President Jean-Bertrand Aristide with his most dangerous challenge in months of protests.

Shortly after police secured control of the port city of Saint Marc, 65 miles north of the capital, Port-au-Prince, Prime Minister Yvon Neptune flew in by helicopter to the occasional shout of support for Aristide.

Surrounded by police in helmets, balaclavas and body armor, some of whom belonged to a special presidential guard, he said there had been little resistance and assured residents the government wanted to seek peace through dialogue, not force.

"What we are doing is to make sure that peace is re-established. We are encouraging the police to get together with the population so that the cycle of violence can cease, " Neptune told reporters.

A Reuters Television cameraman saw bullets on the ground and one dead civilian in Saint Marc. There was no sign of the armed gangs who torched its police station on Saturday after driving out police, and who then looted containers in the port and riddled the streets with barricades.

Haiti's army was disbanded when Aristide was restored to power in 1994 by a U.S.-led invasion after having been deposed in a coup soon after he became the poor Caribbean country's first elected leader.

In the past few days, the police have been beaten back in some areas as the rebellion rolled through provincial towns, leaving at least 23 people dead.

Several policemen were killed between Thursday and Saturday when the latest revolt began in Gonaives, the city where Haiti declared its independence in 1804 after former slaves defeated Napoleon's French army.

The rebels in Gonaives, who once belonged to a pro-Aristide band known as the Cannibal Army, appeared to have remained in control of that city on Monday.


Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest once hailed as a champion of Haiti's fragile democracy, has faced rising pressure to resign since disputed parliamentary elections in 2000, and now faces accusations from opponents of corruption and political thuggery.

Dismissing anti-government demonstrations in recent months as the work of a mulatto elite opposed to rule by the black majority, Aristide says he intends to serve out his second term to 2006.

The United States, saying the violence "concerned us greatly," called on all Haitians on Monday to respect the law. "The problems of Haiti will not be solved by violence and retribution," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

In pro-government enclaves in the dirt-poor provinces of the country of 8 million, some community leaders said they were "fortifying" towns against expected attacks from insurgents, and some opposition leaders warned of anarchy.

"They (the opposition) all have one rallying cry. They're tired of Aristide," Leslie Maximilien, president of the opposition National Forum for the Salvation of Haiti, said.

"But if they win the day, then they will probably break up into small pieces again and we'll be even worse off than we are now," said Maximilien.

Andre Apaid, an Arab-Haitian businessman who has been at the forefront of the so-called Group of 184 opposition coalition, condemned the violence but said it sprang from despair.

"If it (the violence) has one value, it is that it's attracting world attention on the fact that what is here today is bigger than what was there yesterday in terms of trouble, and that it is smaller today than it will be tomorrow if the world does not address this very quickly," he said.

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