Aristide Reaches for Reins

Haiti, with UN and US assistance, attempts to rescue itself

MANY Americans are deeply skeptical about the benefits of closer links between the United States and the United Nations. They should look more closely at Haiti, where US-UN cooperation undoubtedly holds the key to the orderly transition to constitutional rule.

Haiti has a fighting chance to escape from its cycle of poverty and repression, now that the Haitian parliament has ratified a constitutional government and international sanctions have been lifted. This fulfills the first stage of the pact brokered by UN-Organization of American States (OAS) representative Dante Caputo and opens the way for the Oct. 30 return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from exile.

But it is clear from events of the past 10 days that the hard part is just beginning. On Sept. 9, paramilitary police helped to turn the reinvestiture of the elected Port-au-Prince, Evans Paul, into chaos. One man was reported killed and several wounded, including the new minister of information. On Sept. 11 assassins hustled Antoine Izmery, a prominent backer of Aristide, out of public mass and killed him.

The next six weeks will show whether the Governor's Island pact can be the basis for real peace on this troubled island. This will not happen until violence by the Haitian military is curbed, and there will be no let-up in the violence without a concerted push by the US and UN.

This follows inescapably from the July 3 pact, which made a major concession to the military. Under the agreement, Robert Malval, Haiti's new prime minister, will have to operate until Oct. 3 with President Aristide in exile while the authors of the 1991 coup remain at their posts. They include the army commander, Gen. Raoul Cedras, and the much-feared head of the Port-au-Prince police force, Michel Francois. They could make it virtually impossible for Mr. Malval to address human rights abuses. The outrages of the last week could not have happened without Mr. Francois's complicity.

Yet something must be done - and done soon. There has been an alarming increase in summary executions since the Governor's Island accord. The UN-OAS International Civilian Mission, which has deployed more than 200 human rights monitors in Haiti, registered less than 10 killings in June. Between July 1 and August the figure jumped to 50.

Most are the work of shadowy bands with close contacts to the military, which are eerily reminiscent of El Salvador's death squads. Known as ``zenglendos,'' they prowl poor neighborhoods where Aristide enjoys support, killing and robbing. Mr. Izmery's assassination shows that these death squads are most likely aimed at destabilizing the Governor's Island accord.

There is no mystery about the root problem. Although Haiti's 1987 constitution calls for a civilian police force, this has never been enacted; policing is still performed by Haiti's 7,500-man army. Throughout the countryside, justice is dispensed - often brutally - by military ``section chiefs'' and their paramilitary supporters. Even without the glowering presence of Francois and General Cedras, it would take time for Malval's government to propose a law on the police.

Rightly, neither the UN nor the Clinton administration feels like waiting. So the US has put together a $37.5 million bilateral emergency aid package for Haiti, $4 million of which will be used by the Justice Department's International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) to give selected Haitian soldiers a crash training program in countering violence. The UN is recruiting an international force of more than 500 police monitors who will try to deter violence by their presence and train a new police force. It also is putting together a force of ``blue berets'' to professionalize what is hoped will be a much-reduced Haitian army.

The aim is to move soldiers out of Port-au-Prince, convert current barracks into hospitals, and train soldiers in civil defense and other democratic duties. The US expects to contribute some 350 men. In general, these plans make sense, but they are also not without risk. The prospect of foreign police and soldiers in the country is anathema to Haitians.

The greatest risk is that the US and UN could part company. The US police and military training program was conceived at a time when one US goal was to reassure rather than curb the Haitian military. US officials are still concerned about possible reprisals against soldiers, and the Clinton administration could be tempted to forge ahead on its own, particularly if UN police recruitment falls behind schedule. This temptation must be resisted.

Aristide faces enough obstacles, and nothing would discredit the US program more than the impression that Washington is acting independently of the UN and Aristide. ICITAP's crash police training should be integrated into the UN plan as quickly as possible; UN police monitors should participate fully in the ICITAP program.

Two other key requirements must be met if the UN-US package is to provide a real boost in the difficult weeks that lie ahead:

1. Vetting. ICITAP officials will rely on Malval's government to select candidates for training, but they also plan to turn down soldiers with proven records of recurrent human rights abuses. This could start to address the issue of accountability for past crimes, which was sidestepped at Governor's Island and is certain to be one of Aristide's thorniest challenges. Placing the military on notice that abusers will be identified should also deter violence.

2. UN Pressure. The Governor's Island accord foresees the reimposition of sanctions if abuses continue. The Haitian military should be made to realize that this is no empty threat. Thus far, UN-OAS envoy Dante Caputo has shrunk from confronting the military for fear of jeopardizing a political agreement. He has been tougher since recent outrages, even linking them to police chief Francois. This pressure must be maintained in the weeks ahead.

It will take real determination to curb violence and to reverse the cumulative impact of Haiti's terrible history. But a vigorous, coordinated program by the UN and US would give Aristide's government a fighting chance.

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