Haitian rebels out of loop

Leader says he's not being consulted about a peace plan.

In the streets of the Haitian capital, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's supporters are building barricades and foreigners are fleeing the island, anticipating an assault by rebels in the north.

At the UN Thursday, France called for Aristide's resignation, the establishment of a transitional government, and an international police force to restore order. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has invited Haitian government officials and political rivals to meet in Paris Friday.

But the leaders of this rebellion say no one is talking to them yet about a resolution to this crisis.

"Nobody has tried to contact us," says Guy Philippe, the self-declared commander in chief of the Haitian National Revolutionary Liberation Front. "Nobody," Mr. Philippe says, noting that he's been checking his e-mail at the Cap-Haïtien hotel he has used as a base since Sunday.

Philippe's forces have seized police stations in over half the country, and thus control four of Haiti's 10 provinces. Philippe says his next target is the capital. "We're going to arrest Aristide. It will be over very soon," he told a local radio station Thursday. He says that he has cells already in the capital, but is waiting to see the nature of the international intervention before making a move.

"Once we have a civilian administration in place here, we can move toward the capital." he continues. "Nobody has stepped forward to take over so we are having to spend a few extra days here." In other cities - like Gonaives or Hinche - local leaders have assumed the role of provisional "mayor," and only a small group of soldiers stays behind.

Pro-Aristide supporters have locked Port-au-Prince down since Monday with flaming barricades tended by armed men and boys. They say they are guarding against the rebels, but they are also robbing and shooting those who attempt to cross to go to work or their homes. Mobs of armed men - suspected of being part of the same network - also looted several businesses this week. All but American Airlines have cancelled their flights in and out of the capital.

Aristide and others say the political and armed opposition are part of the same organization. But both deny it.

"We have never contacted the soldiers. Never," says Micha Gaillard, spokesman for the Democratic Convergence, a platform of political parties now part of a coalition of business, political, labor union and other organizations.

For more than a year, these groups have held dozens of massive rallies and marches. They are often attacked by rock-and machete-welding government supporters.

"Each sector is playing its own part, but we are in favor of nonviolence," says Mr. Gaillard, a university professor.

The Democratic Platform this week unveiled a peace plan which calls for the "ordered departure" of the president and the establishment of a transition government. But in the wake of the failed diplomatic effort earlier this week - one in a string of attempts to resolve the three-year-long loggerheads pitting Aristide against the political opposition - the French and US are now talking about sending in a civilian peace force.

Aristide has also asked for help, although he has stopped short of requesting a force, saying instead he wants technical assistance for his police, whose numbers have dwindled to around 4,000 due to dismissals and defections.

"We need the presence of the international community as soon as possible," Aristide said earlier this week.

France, the colonial power who lost Haiti to the first successful slave uprising 200 years ago, called for Aristide to consider stepping down on Wednesday. It is ready to to spearhead a peacekeeping force.

Gaillard says a UN or other force would be welcome "if they are here to help the Haitian people get rid of Aristide" but not if they come to back him up.

Philippe said Wednesday that no force will be necessary if Aristide leaves power. And if they do come, "we won't attack them if they are here to remove Aristide,"

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