Haitian Military Digs In Heels, As US Ships Carry Out Blockade
Haiti's residents feel terrorized after UN pulls out monitors, leaving them to fend for themselves
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — VIOLENCE by Haitian Army-backed civilians has severely jeopardized the future of the United Nations-negotiated solution for this country. The withdrawal of UN military advisers and nearly 300 members of the UN Civilian Mission raises serious questions about whether exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide can indeed return here on Oct. 30 as scheduled.
The UN holds the Haitian military responsible for the violence. Uniformed police have openly participated in terrorist acts perpetrated by members, known as attaches, of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAP), which opposes the presence of the UN mission here.
``After having explained for months the exact sense of our mission, we now find ourselves with a clear violation of the commitments made by the Armed Forces,'' said UN Special Envoy Dante Caputo after FRAP members kept a United States naval vessel carrying 200 UN soldiers from docking at a Haitian port last week.
FRAP's tactics, which vary from aggressive threats to armed street patrols, have left Haiti's population terrorized. Night life has come to a screeching halt. Business is worse than at any other time in recent history. Parents are keeping their children home from school, and journalists fear for their lives.
``We used to be able to walk in various areas of towns and villages,'' said a UN Civilian Mission observer in Gonaives, one day before he was sent to the Dominican Republic. ``All we can get now is eye contact, or a quick, low voice whispering, `We're scared, we can't talk, there are traitors around.' '' Even those with bodyguards are not safe. Unidentified gunmen murdered Justice Minister Guy Malary, his bodyguard, and his chauffeur last Thursday after they left work.
Nearly two dozen security guards wearing bulletproof vests and toting weapons provide Mr. Caputo with 24-hour protection.
Thousands of Haitians feel the departure of the UN Civilian Mission has made their situation even more dangerous.
Armed Haitian soldiers and police are scattered at strategic spots throughout the capital city. They stop and search cars, blocking traffic for people running errands such as going to the store.
A new category of victims has emerged. ``When the people in New York decided to pull the mission out, they gave the people of Haiti the biggest slap in the face to date,'' said Jocelyn McCalla, executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Refugees. ``They have left...the people who risk their lives to give information - they've now thrown them to the wolves.''
The UN has given the Haitian military until midnight tonight to restore order and comply with steps outlined in the UN-negotiated July 3 Governor's Island Accord. Otherwise stiff sanctions will go into effect, including an embargo on petroleum and weapons, and a freeze of the assets of Haiti's de facto authorities or ``their agents.''
Madeleine Albright, the US ambassador to the UN, yesterday said the US has not ruled military intervention. ``We are concerned about protecting American lives and restoring democracy,'' she told NBC's ``Meet the Press.''
President Clinton earlier ordered the dispatch of six destroyers to enforce the embargo. He has also ordered a 600-man Marine company to remain on standby at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in case the 1,000 or so Americans in Haiti need to be evacuated. The Marines are equipped with 20 helicopters, including large CH-53D Sea Stallion transports.
The UN Security Council on Saturday voted unanimously to impose the naval blockade on Haiti. ``Severe economic sanctions forced the Haitian military to the negotiating table last July,'' Ambassador Albright said.
When Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras signed the Governor's Island Accord, he agreed to step down as Commander-in-Chief of the Haitian Armed Forces before Fr. Aristide's scheduled Oct. 30 return. The unofficial date for his resignation was Oct. 15, but Friday slipped by with no statement, official or otherwise.
Earlier General Cedras was quoted as saying, ``I always respect what I sign,'' but he continues to run the country from military headquarters, just as the infamous police chief, Lt. Col. Michel Francois, continues to bankroll his attaches from the mustard-colored downtown police headquarters, known as the Cafeteria.
ON Saturday, Cedras said in a televised interview that he would remain in office until a general amnesty was approved by parliament. Cedras also said the renewed embargo is an unjust ``imposition of international will'' on his country. He said it ``doesn't take into consideration the laws of this country.''
Colonel Francois' brother, Evans Francois, who accompanied Cedras to Governor's Island, said in a televised interview that the sanctions and blockade ``are a dangerous game. It will make the situation worse. It will put American people in trouble.'' He said that Aristide should rule in a coalition with the present military government until the next presidential election can be held.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Robert Malval has converted rooms in his private residence to create work space. There are several heavily armed men guarding Mr. Malval and his house, including military officers. There is an entourage of security cars that accompanies him everywhere.
On Friday Malval held a reception for newly arrived US Ambassador William Lacy Swing in his yard, which appears to have been recently fortified with several feet of wooden planks to obstruct the view from the street. There are metal grates on his windows.
``The time of violence must now end,'' Ambassador Swing said, ``and the time of dialogue and reconciliation must begin. I'm here to work very closely with the Malval government in preparation for final steps of the Governor's Island Accord and the return of Aristide.''
But the options look bleak. Up until Albright's comments yesterday, the international community insisted there would be no military intervention. Sanctions, placed on a constitutional government that has few resources to start with, may not be felt for weeks. But it is likely that the military has already stockpiled gas.