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Feared Tontons Rounded Up by Haitian Troops

February 10, 1986|WILLIAM R. LONG | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Policemen and army troops rounded up members of Haiti's long-feared political militia Sunday, saving some of them from vengeance-minded mobs, as the country's new government sought to consolidate its authority.

In morning Masses, the Roman Catholic Church praised the downfall of President Jean-Claude Duvalier, calling his departure a "national liberation," and appealed to the public for peace and forgiveness.

However, an unknown number of militiamen, known as Tontons Macoutes, or "bogeymen," were hunted down and beaten by the neighbors they once dominated with intimidation and violence.

Emergency Wards Filled

It was the third day of bloody retribution in Haitian streets after Duvalier fled the country for temporary refuge in France before dawn Friday and a military-led governing council assumed power.

At Port-au-Prince's main hospital, Dr. Rene Carolle said that emergency wards were overflowing with victims of violence, many of them Tontons Macoutes beaten up by mobs or shot by security forces.

"There are so many we can't even count them," Carolle said. The mobs, she added, "are going out and looking for Tontons Macoutes that they know."

She showed reporters two badly beaten men she said were members of the militia. One lay unconscious and the other, drenched in his own fresh blood, writhed and groaned with pain.

A young woman with bullet wounds in her shoulder and leg limped up to the emergency receiving desk and told a doctor that she had been caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between army troops and Tontons Macoutes.

Dr. Eric Lajoie said the hospital had received two dead and 42 injured people by midafternoon Sunday. But the violence has subsided since Friday; during his shift that day, Lajoie said, about 30 dead and 60 wounded came in.

Half of the dead Friday "were known as Tontons Macoutes," he said.

Lajoie added that no one has compiled a complete list of people killed and injured in the three days of violence.

A foreign diplomat who has been monitoring developments here said that the roundup of militiamen by the security forces is part of efforts by the government to impose order and consolidate its power.

"The police and the army are disarming them and taking them away under police protection," the diplomat said. There was no indication of where the detained militiamen were being held. A great many were assumed to be in hiding from the authorities and the mobs.

Sporadic gunfire was heard in Port-au-Prince throughout Sunday. A curfew was in force from 2 p.m. to 6 a.m., but it was not being observed during the afternoon hours of daylight.

At 4 p.m., light vehicle and pedestrian traffic moved along city streets. Soldiers with automatic rifles, patrolling in pickups, made no attempt to clear the streets. At one downtown corner, a teen-age girl danced alone in the street, while several young men cheered her on.

Normally, the streets would have been filled with people celebrating the beginning of Haiti's pre-Lenten carnival, which now has been postponed indefinitely by the authorities.

In the morning, Catholic churches were full. Priests read a message from the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Msgr. F. W. Ligonde, who welcomed the end of the Duvalier government in the name of the church.

After the people's struggle against injustice, corruption, torture and human rights violations, his message said, they "take joy in their victory; the Lord has liberated his people."

The message also called for "the rejection of hate, vengeance and reprisals against other sons of the same country."

The Tontons Macoutes are the most obvious target of hate and reprisals, because for 28 years they repressed the Haitian people with a vengeance.

Jean-Claude Duvalier's father, Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier formed a corps of plainclothed toughs and thugs to defend his regime after he took office as an elected president Oct. 22, 1957, during a period of political turmoil. They soon were dubbed Tontons Macoutes.

Tonton Macoute literally means "Uncle Knapsack" in Creole, the popular dialect of Haiti, where the the official language is French. In Haitian folklore, Tonton Macoute was a giant who strode from mountain to mountain, picking up bad children and putting them in his knapsack.

The elder Duvalier's Tontons Macoutes were distinguished by their attire--dark glasses, dark suits and pearl gray homburg hats. Working without pay, they used brute force to crush dissidents and extortion to extract a living from the population.

In 1958, after an attempt was made to overthrow the elder Duvalier, he created a force of uniformed militiamen, named the National Security Volunteers and answerable only to the president, to counterbalance the power of the army. The Tontons Macoutes were eventually incorporated into the militia, which thereafter also became known as the Tontons Macoutes.

The blue-uniformed militia helped the senior Duvalier control elections and impose himself as president-for-life in 1964.

The elder Duvalier died in 1971, bequeathing his title to Jean-Claude. The son removed some of the most abusive members of the National Security Volunteers, but he continued to rely on it for political enforcement.

Diplomats estimate that the militia numbered up to 14,000 men at the moment of Duvalier's downfall last week.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, as the United States pressured Duvalier to improve human rights conditions in Haiti, the president imposed more discipline on the militia. And as the repression eased, Haitians began to shed some of their old fear of the Tontons Macoutes.

They were unable to stop a series of periodic protest demonstrations that began last November and culminated with Duvalier's flight from the country last week. He, his family and entourage are presently in France, awaiting the results of French efforts to find him a nation that will offer permanent asylum.

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