White House Stands Firm On Timing of Haiti Pullout
PORT-AU-PRINCE, HAITI — HAVING forced President Clinton to back off the arms embargo against Bosnia, some Republicans in Congress are flexing their new political strength in pushing for an early withdrawal of United States troops from Haiti.
But the administration appears unmoved. Defense Secretary William Perry said Monday that the US would stick to its schedule to reduce the 12,000 troops in Haiti to a force of about 9,000 by Dec. 1 as United Nations troops move in next year.
If this firm White House stance rankles the new conservative majority on Capitol Hill, however, it is welcome news in Haiti.
Many in this capital, including US commander Gen. John Sheehan, say the effort to restore democracy and establish new security structures could crumble if US troops depart too soon.
``I don't think the Haitian people will give 1,000 Bangladeshi troops the same respect they would 100 Americans,'' says a leading member of the international police monitoring force here. ``It may be a racist philosophy, but it can't be ignored.''
Haitian Foreign Minister Claudette Werleigh agrees. ``Security is the big question,'' she says. ``We have asked and asked for disarmament. Even with the US troops here, people are not totally disarmed.
``It would be very unfortunate if they did not take the time to make the transition,'' Ms. Werleigh says. ``It has to be done very carefully - designed in such a way as there's no vacuum.''
Under UN Resolution 940, US troops intervened in Haiti two months ago to restore the legitimate Haitian government and establish and maintain a secure and stable environment. Once completed, 6,000 UN peacekeeping troops will take over and remain in place until February 1996.
UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, on a Tuesday visit to Haiti, announced that UN forces would be led by US Army Lt. Gen. Daniel Schroeder and be 40 to 50 percent US forces. The UN also hopes the US will foot the majority of the bill for the both UN and US phases in Haiti.
But that level of funding could be difficult to obtain from the new Republican-controlled Congress. Reflecting GOP opposition to US participation in UN humanitarian missions, presumptive Senate majority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas on Sunday urged the early withdrawal.
Then there is a problem of definition. With President Jean-Bertrand Aristide reinstated, debate here now swirls over what constitutes a safe and secure environment - the second part of the US mission.
Though the US-commanded Multinational Forces (MNF) have confiscated about 13,000 weapons, officials say thousands more remain in the hands of former Haitian soldiers and their allies.
``I'm afraid things could return so that those with weapons could terrorize other people,'' says Anne Fuller, director of the National Coalition for Haitian Refugee's office here, ``because the [UN peacekeepers] don't have the same authority to use force.''
The MNF is operating under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes use of all necessary force to carry out the mandate. The UN peacekeepers will operate under Chapter 6 - force is restricted to self-defense.
Haitian security forces - roughly 7,000 men who acted as police, military, fireman, and traffic controllers - are not operational while the restructuring and selection processes continue. Those ineligible for service will receive money or jobs under a program sponsored by the US Agency for International Development.
The 700 members of a 1,066-man police force who have not fled or been identified as human rights abusers have received a six-day training course and are back on the streets under the watch of 830 international police monitors. The UN will have only 560 civilian police monitors to observe the new Haitian police force.
``What we know as traditional human rights violations have ceased,'' said former New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, head of the international police monitors until the UN monitors take over. ``The trick is to get the interim policemen to do basic police work.''
THE US is aware that until crime is under control no one is safe. Two US embassy employees were fatally shot and a third one wounded Nov. 10 when an embassy car was hijacked after picking up a payroll. The suspect is the US ambassador's bodyguard.
``People in popular organizations see this as a clear message to them,'' says a man working in the liaison office for Mr. Aristide's government. ``If they can do that to embassy employees, they can do worse to us.''