A UNITED Nations-sponsored, four-month transition from military rule back to a civilian government in Haiti was to create a time for national reconciliation. But hard-line elements have continued through intimidation and assassination to signal their unwillingness to accept the July 3 accord preparing the way for the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. And on Oct. 11, they raised their resistance to a new level with a direct challenge to the United Nations.
As a small group of armed civilians refused to allow the first contingent of UN troops to land here, they shouted death threats to foreigners and promised to kill President Aristide upon his return, scheduled for Oct. 30.
The military-backed right-wing group, the Front for the Advancement and Progress (FRAP) of Haiti, blocked cars of United States diplomats at the capital city's port and beat foreign journalists, chanting, ``Go home, Yankees. We're going to make a second Somalia here.''
The US and UN lost no time in responding to the threats. The UN Security Council and US Secretary of State Warren Christopher threatened on Oct. 11 to reimpose sanctions against Haiti if armed groups continue to harass the US peacekeepers.
While the USS Harlan County swayed back and forth offshore, FRAP members surrounded the capital's port entrance. By the end of the day, they had barricaded street access in front of the port and promised to stay until the boat left with its troops and heavy equipment.
``We are shocked by the attitude of the armed forces,'' said UN Special Envoy Dante Caputo, who called a press conference immediately following the Oct. 11 violence. ``We consider this to be an insult to the UN. The group of evil-doers, port authorities who were absent, and excuses that would fool no one, are being used to explain this delay. And I mean delay,'' he added, ``because we intend to continue.'' Another Somalia?
The debate about sending American troops to foreign soil is already a hot topic in the US because of the situation in Somalia. Recent political instability here has only fueled the controversy.
On Oct. 7, FRAP called a 12-hour strike that emptied the capital's streets. Accompanied by the military, FRAP members roamed the streets, taking potshots at defiant citizens.
``This isn't a strike,'' said a young man, one of several hovering inside a lottery stand. ``This is a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. curfew. What kind of security do we, as private citizens, have if a few hundred guys can paralyze a city of more than a million?''
The military was also present a few days earlier when FRAP members stormed a local hotel looking for Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul, who had left moments before the group arrived. Uniformed soldiers stood by as the terrorists shot overhead, invaded the building, arrested several dozen people, and confiscated their belongings.
The UN's Civilian Mission deplored the ``incapacity of the military authorities to protect the population against the extortion of armed civilians,'' and the ``participation of the military and police in acts of intimidation and terror against their citizens.''
Such denunciations spark little reaction from the military, which has ruled with impunity for the last two years. It wasn't until the UN imposed an arms and oil embargo on June 23 that the military folded at the negotiating table. On July 3, Haiti's military leader, Lt. Gen. Raul Cedras and Aristide signed the Governor's Island Accord, the UN-negotiated 10-point plan allowing the return of Aristide and the creation of a 1,300-member international force to separate the military from the police and retrain them.
The UN's oil and arms embargo against Haiti was suspended Aug. 27, but there is a provision that the sanctions may be reinstated if the agreement is not respected. Advance training team in place
Many foreign diplomats had hoped that the mere presence of the UN Technical Military Police would deter criminal activity. Some 50 members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have already arrived as members of the 567-member UN team that will help modernize the Haitian Army. After training, the troops will work, unarmed and in pairs, with the Haitian police.
The justice minister has submitted a bill to parliament outlining the legal separation of the police and military. But until that happens, the UN must work with the current police force, under the direction of Lt. Col. Michel Francois, who has already made it clear that he will not step down from his position without a fight.