Exit of UN Monitors Raises Tensions in Haiti
Repression intensifies as UN and US ponder `decisive action'
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — FOR the second time in less than a year, the International Civilian Mission monitoring human rights here packed its bags and left Haiti yesterday. Their voluntary departure last fall, for security reasons, precipitated the disintegration of a United Nations-brokered agreement to restore exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. This time, many here worry that the departure of the roughly 100-member team will precede a military intervention.
``This is a major provocation that could trigger a major international reaction,'' said one of the Mission members, denouncing the de facto government's July 11 order to leave. ``Our compliance doesn't mean we recognize this government, but we have to put the security of our members above everything else.'' (History lessons of an invasion, Page 2.)
While Monday's announcement triggered instant international condemnation, loyalists to the military-backed government were delighted.
``This is great,'' said Mireille Durocher-Bertin, a legal adviser to the military. ``The Mission has been exaggerating and fabricating information since they have been here. I hope this provokes a reaction - but one where the international community will stop and listen to what we are saying. They should leave us alone so we can solve our own problems.''
Since the joint UN and Organization of American States (OAS) monitors returned in January, they have confirmed more than 340 cases of extrajudicial killings, blaming many of them on members of the Haitian military and their allies.
Their leaving may endanger Haitians who have helped with Mission projects. A local employee who has been working for the Mission since it first arrived in Haiti nearly two years ago says: ``People know who I work for. They know my face. Now what do I do? I can't move around freely in my own country.''
Need for `decisive action'
In strong denouncements of the latest government act of defiance, members of the UN Security Council and the Friends of Haiti (the United States, Canada, France, and Venezuela), spoke of the need for ``decisive action'' and ``definitive solutions.''
Yet at the UN, few diplomats are willing to talk specifics: whether more time is needed for UN sanctions to work or the choice is down to a US military invasion.
On the invasion issue, so far the US publicly stands largely alone. ``It's clear that the US will not get a UN blessing or an OAS blessing or an Aristide blessing to invade Haiti - to seize the military and reinstate Aristide,'' says Dr. Ernest Preeg, a former US ambassador to Haiti now with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``It's without precedent that you invade a country ... to restore a deposed president.''
There are currently 14 warships and 2,000 Marines cruising just outside the Haitian coastal waters. A Black Hawk helicopter has been circling overhead as a constant reminder of the US presence. The US government has just beefed up its Embassy security by doubling the number of Marines (to about 20) and putting jagged wire fencing around the building.
Military increases security
Such signals of preparation do little to intimidate the aggressive de facto government. An increasing number of roadblocks and military checkpoints have been set up to search cars on the pretext of looking for weapons or to restrict travel.
The Foreign Affairs Minister Charles David has accused foreign journalists of launching ``systematic disinformation to justify an intervention.'' At a press conference where he justified the expulsion of the Mission, he accused the foreign press of buying dead bodies for $60 to show repression.
Armed civilians linked to the military are now stationed at local hotels to spy on movements of the international press and the local Haitians who assist them, according to a source close to the military. On Tuesday, the minister of information announced that collaboration with the ``enemy'' will be punished by jail and hard labor.
What comes next?
US and UN officials are energetically discussing the next chapter in the Haiti story - expansion of the UN peacekeeping force there once Aristide is back in power. The Security Council wants Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's recommendations on size, composition, and cost by July 15.
In a plan that never really got off the ground, the Security Council last fall authorized a force of less than 1,500 to help establish public order and to retrain and modernize Haiti's Army and police force.
The US, which has been courting potential troop contributors in recent travels around the hemisphere, now is talking about a force of 10,000 or more, a figure as big as the UN's total peacekeeping contingent in 1990. ``This force is going to be very large and very expensive - and this is not Bosnia,'' says one skeptical European diplomat.