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Haiti uprising spreads as PM seeks help
Updated: 2004-02-18 10:05

Haiti's prime minister warned Tuesday of an impending coup and appealed for international help to contend with a bloody uprising that has claimed 57 lives. But the United States and France expressed reluctance to send troops to put down the rebellion.

A man with his daughter walks pass grafitti against Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Port-au-Prince, Haiti Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2004. [AP]
Aid agencies called for urgent international action, warning Haiti is on "the verge of a generalized civil war." The U.N. refugee agency met with officials in Washington to discuss how to confront a feared exodus of Haitians.

On Tuesday, airlines in Port-au-Prince canceled flights to the northern port of Cap-Haitien, Haiti's second largest city, after witnesses in the barricaded city saw a boat approach and rumors swept the town that rebels were about to attack.

In the western port of St. Marc, an American missionary said his life has been threatened by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

"We are witnessing the coup d'etat machine in motion," Prime Minister Yvon Neptune said Tuesday, urging the international community "to show it really wants peace and stability."

Haiti's 5,000-member police force appears unable to stem the revolt, but Aristide and Neptune stopped short of asking for military intervention.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday "there is frankly no enthusiasm right now for sending in military or police forces to put down the violence."

Powell said the international community wants to see "a political solution" and only then would willing nations offer a police presence to implement such an agreement.

Powell spoke by telephone with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who called an emergency meeting in Paris on Tuesday to weigh the risks of sending peacekeepers and discuss how otherwise to help Haiti, an impoverished former colony that is home to 2,000 French citizens.

"We have to reflect on what we can do, for example, in the framework of the Security Council," de Villepin said.

De Villepin stopped short of saying France would send troops and acknowledged the difficulty of such a deployment when a nation is embroiled in rebellion.

But France could contribute from its overseas territories in the region, he said. The French Defense Ministry said it has 4,000 military personnel at two bases in the area, in Martinique and Guadeloupe.

"An intervention force ... implies a stop to the violence, a restart to dialogue," he said. "Nothing will be possible in Haiti if there isn't a jolt."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday the world body plans to "become much more actively engaged" in Haiti's crisis. Officials from several U.N. agencies went to the country Feb. 8 to assess the humanitarian situation and are expected to return to report at the end of the week.

Meanwhile, Canada offered nearly $1 million in medical and food aid, and the United States said it was ready to give $500,000 in humanitarian assistance through the United Nations.

"We are calling for a truce," U.S. Ambassador James Foley said Tuesday. "It doesn't mean that we want to maintain the status quo. ... Haiti cannot continue living without a state of law, with politicized and demoralized police, armed gangs."

The United States has staged three military interventions in Haiti, the last in 1994, when it sent 20,000 troops to end a military dictatorship that had ousted Aristide and halt an influx of Haitian boat people to Florida.

Aristide, who was wildly popular when he became Haiti's first freely elected leader in 1990, has lost support since his party swept flawed legislative elections in 2000. He is accused of using police and armed militants to stifle dissent and allowing corruption to fund lavish lifestyles for his cronies as the majority of the 8 million people suffer deeper misery.

Growing protests have challenged his authority, and scores of people were killed in clashes between police, Aristide militants and anti-government demonstrators before the rebellion.

The revolt was launched Feb. 5 by a ragtag cadre of former Aristide supporters who enlisted a former army death squad leader, an escaped convict and a police chief accused of fomenting a coup two years ago.

They now control roads leading to the Artibonite district, Haiti's breadbasket and home to 1 million people, and have cut supplies of food and fuel to northern Haiti.

Witnesses said 50 rebels led by former death squad leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain descended on Hinche on Monday, freeing prisoners, torching the police station and killing the police chief and two officers.

The attackers also burned down police stations in nearby towns of Pandiassou and Maissade, they said.

On Tuesday, residents staged a demonstration in favor of the rebels, who set up camp outside the town but returned throughout the day, Radio Metropole reported.

Radio Vision 2000 quoted residents as saying dogs were chewing on the charred remains of a prisoner who apparently died when rebels set the jail ablaze.

It said police and government loyalists had holed up at Mirebalais, just south of Hinche, setting up barricades that blocked the entrance and exit to the town against any rebel incursion.

Reprisal killings, looting and torching of homes have been carried out by both sides.

American missionary Terry Snow said he was threatened Tuesday by 10 Aristide partisans, from the "Clean Sweep" gang that he has seen taking direct orders from Aristide.

On Monday they told him they him they were going to "kill some bad people." On Tuesday, he was told "If you don't shut up, we'll kill you."

Snow, 39, from Granbury, Texas, told The Associated Press that he has asked the 20 missionaries to leave St. Marc but that he is staying though "we are fearful of the night."

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