Duvalier's ouster seen to be nearing. Question is not whether Haitian leader will fall but when

The passengers stepping off the plane Saturday from Miami were not the usual tourist crowd. They were largely journalists and cameramen of various nationalities -- all of whom had come to analyze, write about, film, or otherwise attend the spectacle of Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier's expected downfall. They arrived to what was a puzzlingly tranquil capital city.

That the Duvalier regime is almost certainly nearing its end seems evident. His departure would mark the end of Duvalier family rule, which began in 1957. But exactly when the downfall is to come is not yet clear. The question, analysts say, is whether it will come after a relatively quick and painless military action or only in the wake of massive mob violence and civil war. Since the protests around Haiti began Jan. 26, at least 20 people have been killed.

The tension that those arriving here had expected to find could only be gotten at indirectly by penetrating the guarded expression on people's faces.

After an outburst of violence Friday following Thursday's declaration of a state of siege and the rumors of Mr. Duvalier's departure, the capital city has settled back into at least a temporary quiet. On Saturday, demonstrations were reported only in the provinces. Here in the capital, Haitians packed Roman Catholic churches Sunday -- the only permitted gathering places under the stage of siege. The military presence in the capital is much lower than most foreign observers had expected. Only the fact that the streets were nearly empty after 8 o'clock betrayed that something was amiss.

The big question here seems to be what exactly took place on Friday, when the United States mistakenly announced that Duvalier had fled the country. Most political analysts here say that the report was based on a rumor reported by the US Embassy here. At most, its only basis in fact was that Duvalier had flirted with the idea of leaving in the face of mounting discontent in popular, business, and perhaps military circles, these analysts say.

Most analysts here and in Washington say that the US wants Duvalier to leave.

There is another version of events which stems from high-level sources in the Dominican Republic who are in contact with Haitian exile and military groups. These sources say that a military coup was planned for Feb. 12, and that Duvalier discovered the plot. Some Army officers began to try moving against Duvalier at the end of last week, but nothing came of it. This version of events was supported by several sources close to the Duvalier government.

Observers here say that the military situation in Haiti differs sharply from those of other Latin American countries, making a military coup here much more difficult.

In most of Latin America, a strong Army clearly possesses a near monopoly on military power. In Haiti, the Army shares its strength with the grass-roots militia called Tonton Macoute. The Army has between 7,500 and 8,000 men. Estimates for the size of the Tonton militia fluctuate wildly, ranging from 20,000 or 30,000 to 300,000. However, the majority of Tonton members are probably neither willing nor ready to fight for Duvalier in any serious conflict. One foreign observer here says that there is a core of at least 10,000 Tonton fighters who, although armed with unsophisticated weapons, might be able to put up some resistance to a military coup attempt.

Another obstacle to a military coup is that the Army is severely divided, both politically and in its structure of command. The commanders of the main military units, such as a US-counterinsurgency-trained group called the Leopards and the presidential guard, all report directly to the President rather than to the Army's head, Gen. Henri Namphly.

The Army is split into competing factions. A small group of the oldest officers are of mulatto, lower-middle-class origin and were trained before the Duvalier family came to power. A larger, more important group of officers represents the black, more populist-oriented group that came to power under Duvalier's father, Franois. Jean-Claude Duvalier has reportedly run into problems with the black populist Duvalier old guard in the military since his marriage to Michelle Bennet, a light-skinned mulatto. These officers feel he has deserted the new black middle class brought to power by his father and sided with some of the older mulatto groups who dominated the country until the Duvaliers took control.

Last week in what some analysts here interpret to be an effort to build bridges to the old guard, Duvalier appointed several top Army officers from that group back into ranking military positions.

Meanwhile, popular discontent against Duvalier continues to build. The rapidly growing Catholic and Protestant opposition to the government is a reflection of this widespread grass-roots unhappiness, some analysts say.

The Monitor incorrectly reported in its Feb. 3 issue that Haiti's President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier declared a state of siege on Thursday. It began on Friday. 30--{et

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