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Vigilantes Strike Back at Anti-Democratic Terrorists in Haiti; 4 Killed

November 26, 1987|DON A. SCHANCHE | Times Staff Writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An apparently spontaneous uprising of masses of Haitians against roving gangs of anti-democratic terrorists left at least four people dead Wednesday and dramatically altered the campaign atmosphere of presidential and National Assembly elections--Haiti's first in 30 years--scheduled for Sunday.

Turning the tables against supporters of the deposed Duvalier dictatorship who have terrorized Port-au-Prince and other cities with random killings, firebombs and violence, thousands of neighborhood vigilantes barricaded streets in many parts of the capital and at least two other towns Tuesday night and Wednesday, halting cars and routing out suspected Tontons Macoutes, the officially banned but still armed and active members of former President Jean-Claude Duvalier's dreaded secret police.

By dawn, four men who the vigilantes said were armed Tontons Macoutes on terror missions had been beaten and hacked to death with machetes and their bodies burned in the streets. Later Wednesday, an 18-year-old pedestrian, identified as Fred Aglande, was shot to death on a main street by gunmen, alleged by witnesses to be Tontons Macoutes, in a passing car.

Warning From Army

Port-au-Prince radio stations later in the day said a pregnant woman had been killed and another person wounded on a downtown street by gunmen firing from an automobile.

In an announcement apparently aimed at the neighborhood vigilante groups, the army warned in a Wednesday night television broadcast that it would not tolerate people taking the law into their own hands.

A U.S. Embassy armored van used to transport employees around the capital was stoned and fired upon shortly after midnight. The embassy spokesman said no one was hurt and that he did not know whether the attack came from the vigilantes or the terrorists.

The unexpected attack on the American vehicle highlighted fears that the vigilante movement, while aiming to stop terrorists, might make tragic mistakes. Sources said that two of Wednesday's victims were not terrorists at all but private security guards whom the vigilantes mistook for Tontons Macoutes because they carried pistols.

'A Kind of Civil War'

Dr. Louis Roy, who was an architect of the country's new constitution, said the vigilante action "is a kind of civil war" by people who are fed up because the army-led caretaker government has done little or nothing to protect them from terrorists bent on derailing Sunday's long-awaited presidential election.

Since campaigning began in August, one presidential candidate and another political leader have been murdered, more than a dozen people have died in random terrorist attacks and the headquarters of the independent Electoral Council responsible for staging Sunday's election has been repeatedly attacked.

On Monday, bands of 20 to 30 terrorists burned one of the capital's largest markets and roamed the streets through most of the day, shooting randomly and shouting, "Down with the Electoral Council, long live the army!" Several bystanders died in the violence.

Only once, during an attack on the headquarters of a popular candidate in Port-au-Prince on Tuesday night, have the police intervened. A passing police patrol killed two gunmen who were shooting at the headquarters of presidential candidate Marc Bazin, who earned the hostility of the Duvalier forces when he tried as finance minister to enforce tax laws against favored members of the regime.

Although many of the politicians involved in the election saw the danger of the newborn vigilantism getting out of hand, all who could be contacted Wednesday said they welcomed it as an ad-hoc guarantee that an angry public will not permit the election to be derailed by terrorism.

"They are doing a good job of fighting the Tontons Macoutes," Bazin said, "but it is a pity the people had to do it because neither the army nor the government would. But if it goes further there is a risk it could become a guerrilla thing."

"The people are standing up to protest violence," said Rene Belance, Electoral Council spokesman. "They are defending themselves and the process is expanding all over."

"It's very encouraging that the people are reacting, but it is very dangerous because there can be mistakes, and it can provide a pretext for the army to move in and upset the elections," said the Rev. Alain Rocourt, treasurer of the nine-member Electoral Council. "But now the Macoutes have a clear signal from the people: We won't let you disturb the election."

A leading writer, Laennec Hurbon, called the mass movement "marvelous" because it represents popular support for the Electoral Council, which has been harassed by the government of Lt. Gen. Henri Namphy. Namphy pledged to support the council's efforts but has ignored its appeals for security help and even tried once to disband the Constitutional Council.

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